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What is an index

What Is An Index


An index is the map to a book: the gateway to the author's ideas.


The Origins and meanings of "Index"

"Index" is derived form the identical Latin word which originally meant "that which points out". The Latin noun was derived from the stem of the verb dicare, which meant literally "to show", and the prefix in-, used to indicate the direction from a point outside to one within a limited distance. The verb indicare means "to make known, point out, reveal, declare, give essential information"

From large Latin dictionaries, we find that "index" also came to mean any kind of indicator, sign, token, or marker; a person who reveals or points out; the title slip of a scroll, and hence the title of a book; a summary or digest of a book or its table of contents; a list or catalog of books and their authors; and an inscription or caption. Many, but not all of these shades of meaning have been preserved until our time, and others have been added.

In ancient Roman times, an index was the title slips attached to papyrus scrolls on which the titles of the works and authors were written so that each scroll could be easily identified on storage shelves. Scrolls had neither page nor leaf numbers, nor line counts.

With the invention of the printing press, the first indexes began to be compiled. Indexes, in the modern sense, now give the exact locations of names and subjects in a book, which was not possible before the age of printing.

The alphabetical listings of names, subjects and words were referred to by the Latin terms index nominum, index rerum, and index verborum, up until the end of the 19th century. Source: Hans H. Wellisch, Indexing from A to Z.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists index (1398) as the "forefinger, pointer"; and as a piece of material that serves as a pointer (1594). The first use of the verb form of index (1720) was "to furnish (a book etc.) with an index"; and in 1761, "to enter (a word, name, etc.) with an index". Derivations from the root index were: indexical (1828); indexer (1856); indexed (1872), indexing (1887); indexible (1951); indexation (1960)

The Oxford English Dictionary also lists: index-hunting (1699); index-hunter (1751); index-learning (1728); index-rakers (1867) and index pips (1899).
(Source: Hans H. Wellisch, Indexing from A to Z. (pages 159-170))

Definitions of "Index"

Hans H. Wellisch defines an index as "an alphabetically or otherwise ordered arrangement of entries, different from the order of the material in the indexed document, and designed to enable its users to locate information in it."

Nancy C. Mulvany offers the following: "[an index] provides a gateway to idea
s and information. An index, whether it appears in the back of a book or on a
CD-ROM, is a knowledge structure. Access to information is the added value
that the indexer brings to the material." Source: Nancy C. Mulvany, Indexing
of Books

The Chicago Manual of Style says "An index, a highly organized, detailed
counterpart to a table of contents and other navigational aids, is also insurance,
in searchable texts, against fruitless queries and unintended results". A good
index gathers all the key terms and subjects (grouping many of the former under
the conceptual and thematic umbrella of the latter), sorts them alphabetically,
provides cross-references to and from related terms, and includes specific page
numbers or other locators. This painstaking intellectual labour serves readers of
any book-length text, whether it is published on paper or online." Source: The
Chicago Manual of Style
, 16th edition p. 812

International Standard ISO 999 - Information and documentation (1996)
An index is an ”ordered arrangement of entries… designed to enable users to
locate information in a document or specific documents in a collection”. The ISO
standard provides guidelines for the content, organization and presentation of
indexes, and covers the choice and form of headings, subheadings used in index

Wikipedia. An index is a list of words or phrases ('headings') and associated
pointers ('locators') to where useful material relating to that heading can be
found in a document. In a back-of-the book-index the headings include names
of people, places and events, and concepts selected by the indexer as being
relevant and of interest to a possible reader of the book. The pointers are
typically page numbers, paragraph numbers or section numbers

The Penguin Encyclopedia explains indexing as: "the compiling of systemic
guides to the location of words, names and concepts in books and other
publications. An index consists of a list of entries, each of which comprises
a heading together with any qualifying phrase and/or subheadings, and at
least one page reference or cross-reference. Individual judgment and
sensitivity are essential to produce an index that is effective and a pleasure
to read."

Characteristics of an Index

  • The value of an index lies in how it is organized. It is an intricate network of interrelationships of information.
  • An index anticipates the reader's viewpoint by providing entries that are worded and structured so as to be useful to those who are less familiar with the topic than the author, thereby giving readers quick and efficient access to the text.
  • An index is the map to the ideas and information in a book.
  • While readers can use the table of contents to get an overview of what a document contains, a good quality index guides readers to specific pieces of information. Indexes need to accommodate the needs of different readers, whether general, students, researchers or scholars. If the index entries are specific and concise, then the index will be a very effective "finding" tool. A good index increases book sales.


The Function of an Index

  • An Index discriminates between information on a subject, versus passing information on a subject.
  • An index excludes information that offers nothing significant value to potential index users.
  • An index analyzes concepts to produce a series of headings and sub-headings with page locators.
  • An index indicates relationship between concepts.
  • An Index groups together subject information that is scattered throughout the book.
  • An index anticipates the reader by directing the user to find information under related headings from cross-references.
  • An index arranges entries into a systematic and helpful order.

  • (adapted from Indexing Books by Nancy Mulvany)

What an Index is NOT

  • An index is not a concordance. a list of words that appear in a document.  A concordance lacks analysis, synthesis and structure. It is quite simply a list of words with a list of undifferentiated page numbers, in alphabetical order, without subheadings, cross-references, etc.
  • An index is not an elaborate version of the table of contents. Nor is an index simply an outline of the book.
  • An index is a separate and distinct document that has been written, not generated. An index is creative, authored work recognized by copyright registration, which enables readers to quickly and efficiently locate information within a book.

Some Quotations

Stephen Leacock: "A really good index will in most cases itself give the information wanted."

John Ruskin: It is easy enough to make an index, as it is to make a broom of odds and ends, as rough as oat straw; but to make an index tied up tight,
and that will seep well into the corners, isn't so easy."

Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, I, III, 343:

And in such indexes (although small pricks To their subsequent volumes) there is seen
The baby figure of the giant mass Of things to come at large.

What Makes A Good Index

A good index retains the author's terminology, and anticipates
the expectations of different readers. In other words, an index does not exist independently of its audience." Nancy Mulvany in Indexing Books

What Are the Qualities of a Good index?

  • A good quality index is recognized by readers as having "real value" because they can find information quickly and efficiently with a well written index. Readers prefer to buy books with well written, detailed and organized indexes.
  • A quality index is a mark of a serious book: written to generally accepted indexing standards: it performs flawlessly. Readers find what they are looking for and don't give the index a second thought. If on the other hand, the index is poorly written, readers become frustrated and will very likely move on the the next book.
  • A good book index anticipates how readers will search for information. The index provides immediate access to the important terms, concepts and names scattered throughout the book, quickly and efficiently.
  • A good index has headings and subheadings that are concise, accurate and
    unambiguous, reflecting the contents and terminology used in the text.
  • A good index has enough cross-references to connect related terms; appropriate
    alphabetization and page references format to assist with reading the index; and
    the index is comprehensive with an appropriate length and level of detail.
  • A quality book index reveals the interrelationships of topics, concepts and names
    so that readers need not read the whole index to find what they are looking for.
  • A good index provides terminology that may not be used in the text, but which the reader will use for searching through the index.
  • Quality book indexes are written with the readers in mind: book indexing is something that only human book indexers can do well. Automatic indexing software
    produce a "concordance" or list of words that have limited usefulness.


Benefits of a Good Index

  • Studies show that a quality back of book index increases book sales. Readers, book reviewers, academics and librarians are less likely to buy or even recommend a book without an index. So authors and publishers rely on professional book indexers to write back-of-the-book indexes for them.
  • A good quality index is a mark of a serious book. When written to generally accepted indexing standards, the index performs flawlessly, and readers find what they are looking for and don't give the index a second thought. If however, the book lacks an index, or the index is poorly written, readers becomes frustrated
    and simply go to the next book. The book sale is lost.


Evaluating an Index

Step 1: General

  • Are the indexing terms appropriate for the intended audience?  
  • Is the style of the index appropriate? (e.g. indented versus run-in style)  
  • Is the index length appropriate for the level of complexity of the book? As general guide, indexes should be 3-5% of the total number of pages for typical nonfiction books; 5-8% for textbooks; and 15-20% for reference books.
  • Is the type size and font easy to read?
  • Is the organization of headings and subheadings easy to read? Are entries concise and clearly written?
  • Are there any spelling or grammar mistakes in the index?
  • Is the punctuation clear and consistent?

Step 2: Headings

  • Are the headings relevant?  
  • Have the key concepts in the book been identified?  
  • Are headings specific, pertinent and comprehensive?  
  • Are there more than 5 or 7 locators per header? if so, subheadings should be added.
  • Are references to a single topic scattered among several headings? Can they be consolidated under a single heading?

Step 3: Subheadings

  • Are subheadings useful?
  • Are subheading entries wordy or concise? Have they been edited to remove unnecessary words/phrases?
  • Is the number of subheadings about right? Are there too many? Are they over analyzed? Could some subheadings be combined?
  • Have the prepositions ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘and’, and ‘the’ been removed from
    the beginning of subheadings?
  • Do subheading have more than 5 to 7 locators (page references)? If so, they should be broken down into additional subheadings.
  • Are there any subheadings with the same keyword/phrase? Is so could they be made into a separate header under that keyword, with a cross-reference back to the original header?  
  • Have subheadings been double-posted to make main headings, for the reader’s convenience? Do the double-postings have the identical locators?

Step 4: Locators (Page References)

  • Are the locators accurate? Spot-check several subheadings for accuracy and comprehensiveness of the locators.
  • Are there more than 5 to 7 undifferentiated locators after a header or subheading? If so, they should be broken down into additional subheadings.
  • Are there any false locators, or locators missing an en dash (e.g. “172-72”, or “13102”)

Step 5: Cross-References

  • Have cross-references See, and See also been used correctly?
    (e.g. ‘See’ should point to a term that expresses the same concept; while ‘See also’ should point to related information.  
  • Are any cross-reference circular?  
  • Are more cross-references required to help the reader navigate the index?


Cook Index Usability Studies

Book index usability studies examine effectiveness of indexes for locating and retrieving information quickly; how they add value to a book and increase book sales; and the relationship between quality indexes and Pulitzer Prize awards. The usability studies have found that indented indexes are preferred over run-in style; that there is a learning curve for users only familiar with text searching on the Internet; that some users expect index headings to be like a "table-of-contents; while other users would like more cross-references in indexes.

1. Susan Olason’s Index Usability Study  
Olason’s usability study found that “Indexes directly affect publishers’ profits and add value to authors’ reputation by making their knowledge accessible in a user-friendly manner.” Two key factors influencing book selection were: comparing book indexes and the price of the book. The study also found that indented indexes are preferred over run-in style; that users expected headings to be like a "table-of-contents"; and that some readers were frustrated by having to read rather than scan the index.
(Source: “Let’s get usable! Usability Study for Indexes”, by Susan C. Olason, The Indexer, Vol. 22, No. 2, October 2000)

2. BNA Law School Index Usability Study 
BNA’s usability study compared the speed and success in finding specific legal information using indexes versus text searches. BNA concluded that an index provided more relevant and complete results (86 percent versus 23 percent success rate for indexes versus text searches.) Secondly, index users frequently discovered other related information in sub-headings, and this was considered a real bonus.
(Source: “Using on-line Indexes”, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 2008)

3. Macmillan Computer Publishing Index Usability Study 
The Macmillan usability study made a number of recommendations to improve information retrieval from indexes. (Source: Usability Testing at Macmillan USA” by Christine Nelsen Ryan and Sandra Henselmeier, Key Words, Vol. 8, No. 6 November/December 2000)

4. Barnum Index Usability Study of User Preference and Performance
The Barnum usability study looked at information retrieval using a hyper-linked index versus full-text search in an electronic text. The study found that index readers used the table of contents in addition to the index; and that users liked a lot of synonyms in an index. The study identified issues affecting user performance and attitude, and the study made a number of recommendations for additional research.
(Source: “A Usability Study of User Preference and Performance” by Carol Barnum
et. al., Technical Communication, Vol. 51, No. 2, May 2004.)

5. Indexes in Pulitzer Prize winning books
The Sassen usability study investigated whether there was a correlation between index quality and a book awarded the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction between 1962 and 2008. The study found that “the ratio of index to book pages increased during the period 2000-2008, and there is trend towards more indexes in award-winning indexes.” (Source: “Indexes in Books Awarded the Pulitzer prize for General Nonfiction (1962-2008), by Catherine Sassen, Key Words, January-March 2009)

6. Usability study of academic library website indexes
The Kingsley usability study examined the use of back-of-the-book style indexes for websites in terms of end-user use, speed and accuracy of finding information, and end-user perception of the web indexes. The study found that (1) participants were more successful finding information using a website index, and (2) that academic library site indexes were effective navigational tools. Some users however did not think to use the website index even after failing to get results by searching and browsing.
(Source: “The usability of academic library website indexes” by Ilana Kingsley.
The Indexer, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2008.)

7. Jorgensen and Liddy Usability study
Corinne Jorgensen and Elizabeth D. Liddy's usability study found that index users became more efficient as they learned the structure of an index. A back-of-the-book index has an intuitive structure that can be readily grasped, and users can become very proficient in accessing information.
(Source: "Information access or information anxiety? - an exploratory evaluation of book index features" by Corinne Jorgensen and Elizabeth D. Liddy. The Indexer Vol 30 No. 2 October 1996.)



"A nonfiction book without an index has no heft. I pay it no attention."
Arthur Salm (San Diego Tribune book reviewer/editor)

William Shakespeare: "Ah me, what act that roars so loud and thunders in the index?" Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4.

The London Times, May 8, 1957: "The inclusion of an index is, of course, not enough in itself. It must be a good index."

Book published in 1465: "The index and figures of this book are indeed alone worth its whole price, because they make it much easier to use... so that everybody who wants to quickly find something contained in this little book, can find it."

History Of Book Indexing

A survey of mankind's efforts to record, organize, retrieve and index information.



Language and Alphabets

  • The Semites (c 2000 BC) invented the alphabet. They lived in Egypt and were
    inspired by the Egyptian writing system.
  • The Semites (c 1,000 BC) also invented alphabetical writing by establishing a fixed
    order for letters ranging from A to T, which is found in all Semitic languages such as
  • Phoenician, Syriac, Hebrew, and Arabic. Alphabetical order, for ordering information,
  • evolved once a fixed order for letters was established. [2, 13, 15] The Greeks borrowed
  • from the Phoenician language and adapted it for their own use. The Phoenician alphabet
  • had 22 letters, while the first Greek alphabet probably had 26 letters. [2]
  • The Etruscans (c 700 BC) copied the Greek letters, and were followed by the Italian
    peoples, including the Romans. [2]
  • As the Romans conquered the lands around them, their language and alphabet
    came to be widely used. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Roman letters
    were “fitted” into newer tongues, including Old English around AD 600. [2]


2000 BC to 100 AD

  • Preface: During this period, kings and various rulers sought to record historical
    events, trade transactions and administrative details on clay, bone, prepared skins,
    papyrus and parchment. These records were collected in libraries, and early efforts
    were made at tagging and cataloguing the records for retrieval.

    The first written catalogues of books were simply inventories and finding lists
    written on clay tablets, or sheets of parchment. Cataloguing developed with the
    expansion of libraries.
  • 2000 B.C. clay envelopes enclosed Mesopotamian cuneiform documents to
    help preserve. The clay envelopes had signature seals and abstracted information
    of the contents. [16]
  • 1800 B.C, catalogues were produced using clay tablets in Hattusas, in north
    central Turkey. Each entry gave the number of tablets making up the work; the
    title of the work; the first line, or a capsule description of the contents; and
    whether the tablet marks the end of the work or not. For its time, it was a fairly
    sophisticated method of finding information. [2]
  • 1150 BC, King Wen in China created a ‘book of wisdom’ known as I Ching using
    eight different three-line symbols called ‘trigrams’, which were then grouped
    together into a hexagram. An 8X8 matrix of double trigrams resulted in 64 possible
    hexagrams, which Wen arranged in a certain order. Instead of page references,
    the locators were hexagram numbers. Wen created a table of trigrams which
    Hans Wellisch called a post-coordinate index (similar to computer databases,
    and taxonomy-building). [6]
  • Amduat (Text of the Hidden Chamber Which is in the Underworld) is an
    important Egyptian funerary text written on the inside of the pharaoh's tomb.
    The earliest version is dated to Tuthmosis III (1479–1425 BCE) an 18th-dynasty
    Pharaoh. The underworld is divided into twelve hours of the night, each representing
    different allies and enemies for the Pharaoh/sun god to encounter. The Amduat
    catalogues the names of these gods and monsters to the spirit of the dead Pharaoh,
    along with illustrations showing the topography of the underworld, and has been
    referred to as the first index. [2, 15]

  • In the 1st millennium BC, northwest Semitic scribes used the Abjad writing system,
    and invented alphabetical writing by establishing a fixed order for letters ranging
    from A to T, which is found in all Semitic languages such as Phoenician, Syriac,
    Hebrew, and Arabic. [13; 15]
  • By the 4th century BC, bookselling became a flourishing industry and libraries
    began to appear. [2]
  • Ashurbanipal (668–627 BC), Assyria’s last important ruler, created the first
    systematically collected library in the ancient Near East, which included the
    Epic of Gilgamesh. [2]
  • The Royal Library of Alexandria in Egypt, one of the largest and most significant
    libraries in the ancient world, was opened during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter
    (323-283 BC) to collect copies of every work of Greek literature. The Ptolemies,
    who reigned between 305–30 BC, spared no pains at acquiring everything
    in sight to make the collection as complete as possible. The library was part of
    the Museum of Alexandria, which functioned as a sort of research institute for
    a long list of classical thinkers such as Euclid and Archimedes. The Library is said
    to have had over 500,000 papyrus scrolls, plus 200,000 scrolls taken from the
    great Library of Pergamon by Mark Antony as a wedding gift to Cleopatra.
    The library was destroyed by fire c 270 AD [2, 5, 15]
  • Other important libraries in the ancient world include: the Palatine Library,
    Rome, Italy (c. 28 BC); the Library at the Sanctuary of Asclepius, Bergama,
    Turkey (c. AD 100); the Library of the Baths of Trajan, Rome, Italy (AD 104-109);
    the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, Turkey (A.D. 133); Library of the Baths of
    a, Rome, Italy (AD 217); and the Library of Timgad (Tamugadi),
    Timgad, Algeria (3rd century AD). The Roman writer Cassiodorus (485-585 AD)
    recorded how in AD 546 Totila, King of Ostrogoths, sacked the city of Rome
    and destroyed all the libraries. [5]
  • Zenodotus (c 284 BC), the first superintendent of the Royal Library of Alexander,
    organized the works alphabetically by the first letter of the name of the author;
    and library staff attached to the end of each scroll a small tag (an index) that
    gave the author, title, and subject of the work. Library users no longer had to
    unroll scrolls to search their contents, and the works could be easily re-shelved.
    [2, 13]
  • Callimachus (c. 305-240 B.C) was a scholar at the Royal Library of Alexandria.
    He produced a bibliographic survey of the contents of the Library. Pinakes was
    one of the first known documents that listed, identified, and categorized a library’s
    holdings. It is said to have filled 120 scrolls. [2, 13]
  • Quintus Valerius Soranus (c. 140–130 BC, – 82 BC) was a Latin poet, grammarian
    and tribune of the people. Pliny the Elder credits him with being first writer to
    provide a table of contents to help readers navigate a long work. [15]
  • Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC–27 BC), an ancient Roman scholar and writer,
    wrote some alphabetic lists of authors and titles. He was a prolific writer and
    wrote more than 74 works, in 620 books, on various of topics, including Nine Books
    of Disciplines
    , and his compilation of the Varronian chronology. He used various
    categories of liberal arts to organize his Nine Books of Disciplines, and this became
    a model for later encyclopaedists such as Pliny the Elder. [15]
  • Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23–25, AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, was
    a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, who wrote an encyclopaedic
    work called Naturalis Historia, he compiled 20,000 facts from 2000 works by
    over 200 authors. This became a model for all other encyclopaedias. The first of
    the 37 books was a large table of contents listing various subjects discussed
    in the encyclopaedia. At the end of his preface Pliny the Elder indicates that
    Quintus Valerius Soranus was the first to use a table of contents. [15]
  • Valerius Maximus (14 AD–37 AD), a Latin writer and author of Nine Books of
    Memorable Deeds and Sayings
    . Each book was divided into sections, and each
    section had a title. Most of the tales are from Roman history, but each section
    has an appendix with extracts from the annals of other peoples, principally the
    Greeks. [15]


100 to 400 AD

  • Preface: Scholars and writers compiled encyclopaedias, dividing the works into
    sections with headings, summaries of contents, tables of contents, and symbols
    in the margins to help locate information quickly.
  • First century A.D. the word ‘index’ appeared in the Dazangjing Suihan Suoyin
    (Chinese Buddhist canon index). [8]
  • Sextus Julius Frontinus (c. 40–103 AD) was a Roman who wrote Stratagems,
    a collection of four book about military stratagems from Greek and Roman history.
    Each book is subdivided into chapters on specific areas of warfare. Each chapter
    has a heading and a brief extract taken from historical works illustrating a practical
    application of the topic. [15]
  • Claudius Ptolemy (c. AD 90 – c. AD 168), a Greco-Roman writer in Alexandria,
    was the author of several scientific treatises. Ptolemy in A.D 150 provided not only
    topographic lists, captions and maps to Geographia but also an index to the first
    world atlas Atlas of the World. [7]
  • Aulus Gellius (c. 125 – after 180 AD), a Latin author and grammarian, wrote
    Attic Nights, a compilation of notes on grammar, history, philosophy, antiquarianism
    and other subjects divided into twenty books. A title heading at the beginning of
    each chapter spelled out the subject so that readers were able to skim through
    the book to find a subject of interest. [15]
  • Sextus Pythagoreus (c. 200 A.D.) arranged in alphabetical order his Pythagorean
    sentences, which were a group of 123 maxims reflecting the thoughts of the
    Pythagorean school. [16]
  • By 200 AD, the Chinese were using woodblock printing, the earliest form of
    printing which was better suited to Chinese characters than moveable type.
    Blockbooks of China, antedate by several hundred years the Western printing
    of books using moveable type, which was discovered independently, without
    knowledge of the Oriental achievement. [9, page 232] [15]


400 to 1450 AD: Middle Ages

  • Preface: In Europe, scribes in monasteries produced copies of ancient texts by
    hand, while in South Korea, multiple copies of Tripitaka Koreana were printed
    using wooden blocks. A hand, or a pointing finger (index finger) was often used
    to denote an important passage that should be read or noted. In later years,
    access to book contents was enhanced by using symbols, alphabetical order,
    chapter numbers, table of contents, coloured paragraph-marks, running
    along the top of pages, multiple columns and folio numbers.

  • Cassiodorus (c. 485 – c. 585), a Roman statesman and writer living in the
    monastery at Vivarium, wrote Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum.
    He provided summaries (tituli) at the beginning of each book to help find
    information, and he developed an elaborate system of symbols to be used
    as biblical commentaries so that students could readily find information in
    a particular passage. [16]
  • 868 AD The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist sutra written in Sanskrit language, was
    printed using wooden printing blocks during the Tang Dynasty in China.[5, 15]
  • Bì Sheng (990–1051 AD) invented the moveable type printing press between
    1041 and 1048, during the Song Dynasty China. Western printing presses were
    introduce in China in the 16th century but were not widely used until the 19th
    century. [15]
  • Cardinal Deusdedit (died between 1097 and 1100), Cardinal-priest of St. Peter
    in Vincoli, a Roman Catholic Church in Rome, Italy. Deusdedit joined the
    Benedictine Order as a zealous promoter of ecclesiastical reforms and wrote
    a primitive subject index to his canonical collections of Christian laws. [4]
  • Sextus Pompelus Festus (2nd century AD), a Roman grammarian, wrote a
    20 volume encyclopaedic work on Verrius Flaccus, called De verborum significatu,
    with the entries in alphabetical order. [15]
  • Valerius Harpocration (2nd century A.D.) a Greek grammarian of Alexandria,
    wrote the Lexicon of the Ten Orators which was more or less in alphabetic order,
    and he wrote a lexicon on Homer, alphabetized by all letters. [15]
  • 5th century. Theological sayings were arranged in alphabetical order by topic,
    using a semi-encyclopaedic approach. [6]
  • Suidas (10th century) wrote an encyclopaedic lexicon in Greek with 30,000
    entries from ancient sources and from medieval Christian compilers. The lexicon
    is arranged in alphabetic order with phonetic variations. [15]
  • 1011, The Tripitaka Koreana, a complete corpus of Buddhist doctrinal texts,
    was compiled by the Goryeo ruling dynasty in a remote Buddhist monastery of
    Haeinsa in South Korea. Tripitaka Koreana was commissioned in AD 1011 and
    took 86 years to complete. It consists of 81,258 wooden printing blocks, divided
    into 6,802 volumes, which were printed on paper, 440 years before Gutenberg.
    The 10,000 characters of the Chinese language made it difficult to use moveable
    type, but the wooden printing blocks worked well with Chinese [5]
  • By the high Middle Ages (1000–1347) one-volume portable Bibles became very
    common. For the first time, the components were put into a standard and logical
    order; divided into chapters and supplied with alphabetical indices of Hebrew
    names. Many of the innovations designed for friars by booksellers of Paris in
    the 1230’s are found in many traditional modern printed bibles today. [9, page 69]
  • By about 1150, scribes in monasteries in Europe were producing a relentless
    stream of books on theology, history, politics, geography, natural history, including
    ancient Greek works translated into Latin. The number of books in circulation in
    Europe had become too great for any person to manage, so new kinds of books
    were devised. Glossed texts with marginal quotations for quick reference,
    encyclopaedias, concordances, florilegia, digests, and indexes. Scribes devised
    various ways of looking things up such as alphabetical order, chapter numbers
    for the Bible and other texts, tables of contents, coloured paragraph-marks,
    running titles along the top of pages, and folio numbers. Books became
    resources to be consulted frequently at speed, rather than merely to be read
    at leisure. Books of literate administrators and lawyers were in two columns,
    with many graded coloured initials and margins packed with ‘forms of apparatus
    for rapid reference’. For the first time, books became resources to be consulted,
    frequently at speed, rather tan merely to be read at leisure.[9, page 64-65]
  • 13th century, the first Christian citation index ‘a concordance to the incidental
    passages in the writings of the fathers’ appeared. [4]
  • 1200 Manuscripts were usually in two columns, bristling with many graded
    coloured initials, margins were packed with forms of apparatus for rapid reference.
    This is in marked contrast to a typical book of 150 years earlier, with a single
    column of dense text, with few initials and scarcely any division between words,
    and almost not space between paragraphs. [9, page 65]
  • 1234 Korean Choe Yun-si invented metal moveable type for printing, over
    200 years before Gutenberg. [5]
  • 1250 Professional scribes and illuminators were beginning to set up commercial
    and urban businesses independent of monasteries in Paris, Bologna, and Oxford.
    The style of medieval script and book illumination varied immensely throughout
    the 1,500 years of the Middle Ages. A book may be copied from one source,
    corrected, or corrupted against several others, wisely or carelessly, or copied
    from texts many centuries old, or both. The lines of textural descent are extremely
    complex. [9, page 65]
  • By the end of the reign of Edward I of England (1239 –1307) alphabetical
    indexes were written for parliamentary statutes and other law books. English
    Bibles of the 13th century had lists of Hebrew names that were alphabetically
    to the third or fourth letter of each word. [2]
  • Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175 –1253), was an English statesman, theologian,
    and scientist. He was appointed Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and later
    Bishop of Lincoln. He was a prolific writer and needed to recall his reading at
    will, so he made subject indexes of works, and marked passages he had read
    with a set of symbols. [7]
  • Hugh of Saint-Cher (c. 1200 – 1263) a French Dominican friar, directed the
    compilation of the first concordance to the Bible from the text of the Latin
    , with the help of 500 Dominican monks. Hugo divided the chapters
    into seven almost equal parts, indicated by the letters of the alphabet, a, b, c,
    etc. The concordance listed only nouns, adjectives and verbs. Entries indicated
    the book and chapter, but not the verse. [14]
  • Rufinus wrote De virtutibus herbarum in 1290, a herbal manuscript with an
    alphabetical index of names of plants sorted by their first letter only. [11]
  • Thomas of Ireland (Thomas Hibernicus) (1295–1338) an Irish writer, compiled
    the Manipulus florum ('A Handful of Flowers'). Some copies have headwords
    without locators, while other copies have a system of locators in the margin
    using single or double letters to mark each section, for cross-referencing
    between related entries. Many editions have a non-alphabetized, list of authors
    and works (a bibliography) at the end of the book. The marginal notes appear
    to cite various authors. [10]
  • Herbarium (late 13th or early 14th century), one of the earliest herbal manuscripts, contained
  • figures of plants and an index to their names. [11]
  • Domenico Bandini of Arezzo (c. 1335 –1418), an Italian humanist, wrote an encyclopaedia
  • Fons memorabilium universi ("Source of notable information about
    the universe"). The work is organized in 5 parts, each part divided into several
    books containing numerous cross-references. Each of the 34 books covers one
    circle of topics. Some books consist of several introductory and systematical
    chapters, followed by an alphabetically ordered list of articles. This method of
    organization had been developed by Vincent of Bauvais, a Dominican friar
    (c. 1190–1264?) in his Speculum Maius (The Great Mirror) a compendium of
    all of the knowledge of the Middle Ages. [15]
  • 14th century. With the rise of the university system in Europe and the expansion
    of scholarship, scholars indexed their books by hand using index terms and
    were extracted from the text, along with cross-references. [6]


1450 to 1501 AD: Early Printed Book (Incunabula)

  • Preface: Before the printing press, scribes in medieval European monasteries
    copied books and document by hand, and by the 13th century, there were
    secular copy-shops. Copying by hand resulted in difference in pagination
    between copies of the same book, which limited widespread use of indexes.

    Scholars compiled indexes for their own use, and scribes in monasteries added
    indexes to the texts that they were copying. The indexer, in those times, had to
    not only to do the intellectual job, but also made his own indexing slips from
    scrap paper, then sorted the slips on boards, or in wooden boxes.[14]

    With the invention of printing in Europe around 1450, it became possible to
    produce identical copies of books in large numbers. Some of the early printers
    wrote indexes for their books, but most employed scholars as editors, correctors,
    and compilers of indexes. The first printed indexes (incunabula indexes) were
    written for reference books for herbals.

    The early printed book, Incunabula, was printed either from wooden printing
    , or from metal moveable type, prior to the year 1501. Terms such as index,
    table and table of contents were used indiscriminately. Name and subject indexes
    were usually after the table of contents, but around the middle of the 16th century,
    indexes appeared at the end of the book. [14]

    Printers vied with each other to make their product more attractive to prospective
    buyers. Incunabula indexes became quite sophisticated: index locators referred
    to pages and paragraphs; entries were sorted alphabetically by up to 3 letters;
    and there were multi-lingual indexes, and multiple name and subject indexes.
    Indexes generally became more elaborate and voluminous by the end of the
    15th century, a trend which continued well into the 16th Century” [13]
  • In 1468, Speculum vitae (Mirror of Life), a Middle English poem composed between
    1350-1375, became the first dated index. The book had 300 large pages, preface,
    table of contents and a six and half page index with an average of 15 entries
    per page. It was alphabetized by the first syllable; each group of entries beginning
    with the same letter, were indicated by a large capital letter from A to V; each entry
    was proceeded by alternate red and blue paragraph marks. It became a best seller.
    The book went through several reprints; and other printers produced ten more
    Latin editions, all including the same index. [14]
  • In the1460s, St. Augustine’s De arte praedicandi (On the art of preaching) became
    the earliest printed index in Europe. There were two editions, dated 1466 and
    1468, both published by Fust and Peter Schoeffer (the printers of Gutenberg’s
    Bible) in Germany. [14]

    In the preface, the editor extolled the virtues of Augustine’s work and then drew
    attention of prospective buyers to the index: “the index and figures of that book
    are indeed alone worth the whole price, because they make it much easier to use”.
    The book became a best seller.

    The index locators referred to paragraphs, and were marked in the margin by
    letters of the alphabet. There were 80 paragraphs, and 230 entries (8 entries
    per page). Index entries were phrases, more or less verbatim from the text, and
    were alphabetized using either the first syllable, or sometimes two or three letters,
    but not the rest of the letters in the word. There were many cross-references and
    some index phrases were rotated to provide additional access to every listed
    concept. There was no Latin term for index at that time, although tabula was often
    used during the 15th century. [14]

    According to Hans H. Wellische “readers increasingly came to appreciate the
    value of indexes.” More finding aids were provided by printers who quickly
    realized what Peter Schoeffer had understood in 1470, that the provision
    of indexes helped to sell books
    . [12]
  • Prior to 1470, elaborate handwritten indexes were found in some incunabula.
    They were handwritten, compiled by the owners, used folio numbers as locators,
    and some contained thousands of index entries. Indexes to manuscripts could
    not refer to leaves of pages, but used other locator techniques. The texts of these
    theological, medical and philosophical treatises became somewhat standardized
    by division into chapters and paragraphs
    , which enabled more accurate index
    references to these divisions. [12]
  • In 1470, Marchesini’s Mammotrectus was published for clerks and parish priests
    whose knowledge of Latin was rudimentary. Peter Schoeffer added an eleven
    page index of difficult words in fine Gothic; and there were about 2,700 entries,
    with 250 entries in 3 columns per page. The book became a best-seller and was
    reprinted several times until 1500. [12]
  • In 1480, the Herbarium of Apuleius (Apuleius Platonicus) was edited and printed
    by Johannes Philippus de Lignamine. It contains a list of plant names and
    recipes from a 9th century manuscript in the monastery at Monte Cassino.
    The Latin plant names were roughly alphabetized, thus it was self-indexing.
    Alongside the Latin name was the Greek transliterated form, and the editor
    also added Italian, French Arabic and Slavic names (multi-lingual index). Each
    plant was illustrated by a hand-coloured woodcut. [11]
  • In 1484, Peter Schoffer (Gutenberg’s associate) published Herbarius that listed
    150 plants roughly alphabetized by their Latin names, thus making the work
    self-indexing. Each Latin name was accompanied by the German equivalent. [12]
  • In 1485, Peter Schoffer republished Herbarius as an enlarged German version
    called Gart der Gesundtheit. Gart was the first incunabula on a scientific subject
    written in the vernacular, and the indexes were far in advance of those compiled
    during the following 50 years. The name index and subject index were in
    alphabetical order (by first letter only) and placed at the end of the text (instead
    of after the table of contents). The Latin names had the corresponding German
    name, making it the first herbal name index with bilingual terminology. [12]
  • In 1491, Jakob Meydenbach printed Hortus sanitatis (The Garden of Health) with
    more than 1,000 pictures, some full page illustrations of plants, animals, fishes,
    minerals and gemstones. Plant names were alphabetically sorted up to the third
    letter. There was a subject index of organs of the body and diseases, along with
    references to plants used for treatment. Most index entries had between 3 and 8
    references, and several had more than 40 index references to chapters and
    paragraphs that were marked by capital letters in the margin of the text. [11]
  • Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514) wrote the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), an
    illustrated world history following the story of human history as related in the
    Bible. The index entries were taken verbatim from the text, but were not always
    entered under the keyword, and alphabetized by the first letter. Index citations
    refer to leaf numbers, with no designation of recto or verso. [16]


1501 to 1800 AD

  • Preface: The Gutenberg press led to the first assembly-line mass production of
    books. A single Renaissance printing press could produce 3,600 pages per work
    day compared to 2,000 by woodblock printing, or a few pages by hand-copying.
    Presses were set up in more than 100 European towns between 1471 and 1480;
    in 90 more towns between 1781 and 1490; and 50 more towns between 1491
    and 1500. By 1500, printing presses in Western Europe produced more than
    twenty million books. By the 16th century, between 50 and 200 million books
    were produced. [9, page 83] [15]
  • In 1516, the Italian physician Ermolao Bararo published the first annotated Latin
    translation of Discordides Material medica. The subject indexes to herbs and
    diseases were 58 pages, printed in 3 columns, 50 entries each, for over 9,000
    items. All references were to pages (not chapters or paragraphs). [11]
  • In the 1520s, publishers placed an index announcement in a prominent position
    on the title page of herbal manuscripts, to bring attention to the index feature.
    Publishers found that a book with indexes sold better than one without such
    keys to its contents. [11, page 87]
  • In 1529, a second edition of Ermolao Bararo’s translation of Discordides’
    Material medica provided an extensive index of plant names printed on 8 pages
    in two columns, sorted in strict alphabetical order on all letters in a Latin name.
    Each Latin name was followed by its Greek equivalent, with reference to a
    page number, The subject index, in three columns, attempted to list both
    Greek and Latin names of diseases and organs of the body in one alphabetical
    sequence. [11]
  • Jean Ruel’s herbal De Natura stirpium libri tres was first published in Paris in 1536,
    and then was reissued in Venice in 1538 in two volumes. The Index copiosissimus
    of Greek names was 102 pages long, in two columns of 45 lines, with an average
    of 50 items per page, for more than 50,000 entries for the whole book. The
    references were to pages. [11]
  • In 1540, Frankfurt printer Christian Egenolph printed Botanicon, had 3 separate
    indexes: Greek names; Latin and trade names; and the third index had German
    names. All references were to page numbers. [11]
  • In 1545, Italian physician Antonio Musa Brasavola printed a second edition of his
    compendium on medicinal herbs, Examen ominium simplicium medicamentorum.
    The Latin name index with Greek names in transliteration filled 50 pages. The
    index referred to both page numbers and line indicators on the page. [11]
  • In 1546, Hieronymus Bock reissued his Kreuter Buch with 477 hand-coloured
    woodcuts and three extensive indexes, in strict alphabetical order. The book
    was an immediate success and went through 7 editions. [11]
  • In 1552, Hieronymus Bock issued a Latin edition of De stirplum..libri tres with
    5 separate name indexes for Greek, Latin, German, Arabic and Hebrew plant
    names occupying 48 pages, plus a 21-page subject index referring to organs,
    diseases and their treatment. References were all to page numbers. [11]
  • Prior to 1550, the art of indexing was not very well developed. The alphabetical
    arrangement of entries rarely if ever extended beyond the second letter of the
    first word, and catchwords taken from the text, or from marginal notes, were
    the main point of access. [11]
  • By 1550, the techniques of compiling name and subject indexes were well
    established. Herbalists were compiling multi-script, multi-lingual name and
    subject indexes.
  • In 1554, the first man to prepare a concordance to the Bible, was sentenced
    to be burned at the stake for heresy. [4]
  • In 1597, John Gerarde’s The herbal or general historie of plantes was published
    in England, and had 1 subject index and 5 separate name indexes. The name
    indexes were: an ‘Index latinus’; an index of apothecaries’ trade names, Arabic
    names and ‘barbaric’ names; a concordance to plant names; an index of English
    plant names; and a supplement. The subject index listed diseases alphabetically
    by catchword, along with an introductory phrase. [11]
  • The Index librorum Proibitorium (1559-1966) listed published works forbidden
    to Catholics. This index was intended, not to promote or reveal, but to conceal
    information from “good” Catholics who were not supposed to read the Index.
    In its final version, there were some 4,000 works dating from the late 16th century.
    Lamennais’ Paroles d’un croyant and Renan’s Vie de Jesus saw their sales
    boosted to over 160,000 copies in the first year after being added to the Index. [9]
  • Sir Thomas North (1535–1604) was an English justice of the peace and translator.
    His English translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, included an index (1595). [15]
  • Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593), an English dramatist and poet, in 1593,
    referred to indexes in Hero and Leander.

    Therefore, even as an index to a book
    So to his mind was young Leander's look.

  • William Shakespeare (1564–1616), an English poet and playwright made mention
    of indexes in his plays. [11]

    And in such indexes, although small pricks
    To their subsequent volumes, there is seen
    The baby figure of the giant mass
    Of things to come at large.
    (Trolius and Cressida, I, iii, 343)

    Ay me, what act,
    That roars so loud, and thunders in the index?
    (Hamlet, III, iv)

    Lechery, by this hand; an index and obscure prologue
    to the history of lust and foul thoughts.
    (Othello, II, 1
  • Thomas Fuller (1608 – 1661), an English churchman and historian commented in
    1650 that an “Index is the bag and baggage of a book, of more use than honour,
    even such who seemingly slight it, secretly using it, it not for need, for speed of
    what they desire to find”. [2]
  • Henry Scobell (1610–1660), an English Parliamentary official, and editor of official
    publications, wrote Acts and Ordinances of Parliament of 1658. One of the sections
    is called “An Alphabetical Table of the most material contents of the whole book”
    which he referred to as “an index of the general titles comprised in the ensuing
    Table”. [15]
  • In 1691, Shmuel ben Alexander published his book Pri Megadim, which is an index
    to the legal book Hoshen u-mishpat. Judges used keywords to locate information.
    The page and column number were used as locators. [1]
  • 17th century: First scholarly journals were published, each with their own index. [6]
  • 18th century: Cumulative and collective indexes to periodicals appeared. [6]
  • In 1728, The Book of the Zohar was published with an alphabetical index. [1]
  • Alexander Cruden (1699–1770) was the author of an early concordance of the
    Bible called the Complete concordance to the Holy Scriptures (1737). He wrote three
    editions of the concordance, and it is probably the oldest concordance in print. [3]
  • Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), an English writer, spent 9 years writing A Dictionary
    of the English Language (1755), which included an index. The dictionary was massive
    with 42,773 entries, and 114,000 literary quotations. [15]
  • Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), a Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist, laid the
    foundations for the biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature, and is
    known as the 'father of modern taxonomy'. He needed a system for organizing
    data that was expandable and able to be rearranged easily. He used cards, which
    became know as index cards, which were used to write indexes to his many
    publications. [15]


1800 to present

  • Preface: During this period, periodicals and bibliographic indexes of scientific
    journal articles were established. Index cards were used to catalogue the
    ("Universal Bibliographic Repertory", and edge-notched cards were used to
    automate the indexing process. A computer compiled an author index in 1957,
    and indexing software was developed for professional indexers. Dr. Wheatley
    wrote ground breaking articles on indexing, and he founded the Indexing Society
    in 1878. International standards for indexes were established; the role of the
    professional indexer was enhanced; and Indexing Societies were established
    in nine countries internationally.
  • By the 19th century, the value of indexes was being commented upon by a number
    of eminent writers. Thomas Carlyle and Lord Campbell proposed that any author
    who published a book without an index should be deprived of the benefits of the
    Copyright Act. A certain John Baynes went even further and said “that a man who
    published a book without an index ought to be damned ten miles beyond Hell,
    where the Devil could not get for stinging nettles”. [2]
  • 1853, William Poole (1821–1894), an American bibliographer and librarian at Yale
  • University, developed and published a 154 page Index to Periodical Literature. [6]
  • Paul Otlet (1868 –1944), a Belgium author and lawyer, created the Universal
    Decimal Classification system
    , and was responsible for the widespread adoption
    of the index card in Europe. [15]
  • 1870 Muslim presses produced publications with table of contents, with page
    numbers, enabling the reader to make more systematic use of the book. [9, p. 547]
  • In 1879, Dr. Henry Benjamin Wheatley wrote a treatise on “What is an index?”
    He made the point that many books were and remained un-indexed, and as a
    result students and researchers often made their own indexes. He lamented that
    the profession of indexer had been allowed to fall into disrepute and that “some
    suppose that any ignorant hack can produce this indispensable portion of a book”.
    Wheatley remarked: “an ideal indexer needs many high qualifications; but unlike
    the poet, he is not born but made. He must be a good analyzer, and know how
    to reduce the author’s many words into a terse form. He must continually be
    thinking of the wants of the consulter of his index so as to place his references
    under the heading that the reader is most likely to seek”. [2]
  • 1879, Index Medicus was first published and today, and today is a comprehensive
    bibliographic index of scientific journal articles on medical science fields. [6, 15]
  • In 1895, Otlet and La Fontaine began cataloguing facts on index cards that
    became know as the "Repertoire Bibliographique Universel" ("Universal Bibliographic
    Repertory") By the end of 1895, the index had grown to 400,000 entries; growing
    eventually to 15 million entries. He envisioned a copy of the RBU in every major
    city of the world and a fee-base service that responded to inquiries by sending
    copies of the relevant index cards to the requestor by mail. [15]
  • In 1895, Mary Petherbridge, indexer of the records of the East India Company,
    the Drapers’ Company, and The Ladies Field, set up The Secretarial Bureau of
    London. The bureau offered secretarial services plus indexing services for books,
    correspondence, newspapers, and records. [3]
  • 1901 Wilson’s Readers’ Guide to periodical literature was published, and today
    the Guide is an index to over 300 general-interest periodicals. [6, 15]
  • China had more than 60 different filing (sorting) systems in use by the 1930s.
    Chinese characters can be sorted by rhyme, tone, radical parts, structure and
    the number of strokes in the character. The lack of a standardized sorting system
    for Chinese language limited the development of Chinese indexes. [8]
  • In 1925, Du Dingyous compiled the first Chinese back-of-the-book index for
    his book Guidelines for school education. [8]
  • In 1928, Wan Goding gave the first Chinese indexing course. [8]
  • In 1930, Quian Yaxin wrote the Chinese monograph Index and Indexing. [8]
  • In 1932, Hong Ye published a second Chinese monograph, Indexing Chinese Books
    in which he explored indexing procedures and a new Chinese character filing
    system. Hong Ye produced 50 indexes for multi-volume ancient texts, and directed
    the production of 64 book indexes to classical texts. [8]
  • Between 1935-1965 a Vedic Word Concordance of Vedic Sanskrit texts was
    published in a multi-volume concordance with 11,000 pages, published in 16 parts.
  • 1940 Mortimer Taube developed edge-notched cards for indexing (coordinate
    indexing). The cards had rows of little holes around the edges, and the positions
    of the holes represented index terms. The appropriate subject hole was clipped
    for each indexing term. To search a file for articles or books by subject, the cards
    were held tightly and a spike put through the hole of the desired subject. The
    cards with the desired subject then dropped off the spike. The cards were then
    re-filed with the rest of the cards. [6]
  • The optical coincidence system used a card with 80 columns, with 10 positions in
    each column that allowed 800 positions to be punched out. To conduct a search
    on a subject, the cards were lined up tightly and held up to the light. Documents
    indexed under several terms would show up as spots of light. [6]
  • 1957 A computer was used to compile an author index. [6]
  • 1960 A computer produced a subject index to Historical Abstracts. [6]
  • 1960 The indexing thesaurus was developed for specific subject fields, consisting
    of a set of terms used for indexing and for searches. Terms were structured
    hierarchically, with ‘broader’ and ‘narrower’ cross-reference terms. [6]
  • 1961 A computer produced a ‘keyword in context’ (KWIC) index to Biological
    . KWIC was a citation index of scholarly footnotes and bibliography,
    treated as index entries. The index was produced quickly, without human
    editing to correct or resolve errors or inconsistencies. [6]
  • 1963 Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) was published. MeSH is a on-line
    comprehensive controlled vocabulary for the purpose of indexing journal articles
    and books in the life sciences, and it also serves as a thesaurus to facilitate
    searching. [6]
  • 1966 Lockheed Missiles and Space Company designed an online information
    system of citations, abstracts and index terms that can be searched with a
    computer terminal. The system was commercially spun of as the DIALOG system
    that has hundreds of databases. [6]
  • 1982 Drusilla and Hilary Calvert wrote Micrex, a RAM-based program with 8kb
    of memory, for indexing. MACREX was then developed for professional indexers,
    based on a collection of macros, for the PC and Windows environment. [15]
  • 1986 Indexing Research released Cindex™ software for professional indexers
    . Cindex™ is available for Windows, and for Macintosh, enabling professional
    indexers to produce indexes in virtually any format with remarkable efficiency
    and speed. [15]
  • 1995, SKY Software was originally a DOS based designed for genealogists,
    but the product evolved into Windows-based computer software packages for
    professional indexers. [15]
  • 2011 The ASI Digital Trends Task Force (DTTF) was formed to address the
    evolution of book publishing from traditional print to eBook formats. DTTF
    engaged publishers, hardware manufacturers, and software developers to
    design and create “smart indexes” for the digital age.
  • 2012 ASI reported that IDPF approved the Indexes Charter Proposal to establish
    an Indexes Working Group consisting of 300+ publishers, organizations,
    software and device developers.


Book Indexing Standards and Style Guides

  • In 1906 the University of Chicago Press published Manual of Style. From its first
    203 page edition, Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) evolved into a comprehensive
    reference style guide of 1,026 pages in its 16th edition. An entire chapter is
    devoted to indexing. The latest edition also covers electronic publications, web
    based content and e-books, electronic workflow and a primer on XML markup. [15]
  • 1958 National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services (NFAIS)
    proposed standards for abstracting and indexing organizations in the US and
    internationally. [6]
  • 1964 The British Standard on indexing (BS 3700) recommendation how to
    prepare indexes to books, periodicals and other documents. The British Standard
  • Recommendations for Preparing Indexes to Books, Periodicals, and Other Documents
    was revised in 1976, and 1988. Much of the BS 3700: 1988 version has been
    incorporated into the international standard ISO 999. [13, 15]
  • 1975 International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issued ISO 9999
    Information and Documentation; Guidelines for the Content, Organization and
    Presentation of indexe
    s was revised in 1996. Other ISO standards include:
    ISO999-199x and ISO 5127/1.
  • 1984 The British Standard on indexing (BS 6529) recommends how to examine
    documents, determine their subjects and select index terms.
  • 1984 The American National Standard (ANSI Z39.4) was established and is
    recognized in both the US and U.K.
  • 1985 The British Standard on indexing (BS 1749) recommends the alphabetical
    arrangement and the filing order of numerals and symbols.
  • 1990s National Information Standards Organization (NISO) set up a committee
    to revise the American standard, ANSI Z39-4-1984, but it did not garner enough
    votes to become a standard.
  • 2002, Oxford University Press released The Oxford Guide to Style. It is a revised
    and enlarged edition of Hart’s Rules. [15]


International Societies of Indexers

  • Preface: Despite the world-wide need for both indexes, and indexers to index,
    the main index practitioners have been in English-speaking countries.
    International Societies of indexers and their members have been instrumental
    in raising the quality of indexes, and the proficiency and recognition of indexers.
    [2, 13,17]
  • 1878 The Index Society (United Kingdom)

    • Formed March 26, 1878 at the first annual meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society
    in London. Henry Benjamin Wheatley (1838–1917) was the founder of the
    Index Society and author of seminal texts on indexing: "What is an index?",
    published in 1879, and "How to make an index" published in 1902.
    • Several large projects were proposed including an index to the drawings in
    the manuscript department of the British Museum, and a General Index of
    Journals of Congress. Henry Benjamin Wheatley and the Indexing Society
    felt that indexes to subjects, and in particular, to periodicals and journals,
    was the way forward.
    • Due to financial problems, the Society folded in 1891 and amalgamated with
    the British Record Society’s index library. [2]
  • 1957 Society of Indexers (SI) (United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland)

    • Formed by G. Norman Knight and approximately 60 other people as professional
    society promoting indexing, the quality of indexes, and the profession of indexing.
    • In 1958, the official journal The Indexer was published.
    • In 1976 the British Standard on Indexing (BS3700:1976) was published, and
    with subsequent revisions, continues to be used throughout the English-speaking
    Goals/mission: To promote improved standards and techniques in all forms of
    indexing. To provide, promote and recognize facilities for training new indexers and
    further training at more advanced levels. To establish criteria for assessing the
    conformity of indexes to recognized standards; To conduct and promote research
    into indexing. To promote and advance good indexing. To enhance awareness and
    recognition of professional produced indexes and the role of indexers.
    Membership: approx. 500
    Awards: Wheatley Medal is given in recognition of quality and outstanding
  • 1968 American Society for Indexers (ASI)

    • First proposed by Theodore Hines, Robert Palmer and students of Columbia
    University Library School
    Goals/mission: To increase awareness of the value of high-quality indexes and
    indexing; to offer members access to educational resources that enable them to
    strengthen their indexing performance; to keep members up to date on advances
    in indexing technology and the role of indexing through conferences, workshops,
    and publications; to facilitate communication through meetings, directories,
    publications, and electronic communication – with each other and related
    professionals; to defend and safeguard the professional interests of indexers;
    to promoting index standards for indexers, editors, and abstractors; and to liaise
    with other professional organizations in information science
    • ASI publishes Key Words
    Membership: approx. 650 members
    Awards: Hines Award; ASI/EIS Award; Website Indexing Award; Order of the
    Kohirabi; and the ASI/H.W. Wilson Company Award for Excellence in Indexing

  • 1972 Australia and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI)

    Goals/mission: To promote standards and promote the quality of indexing in
    Australia and New Zealand; to promote training and continuing professional;
    development and interests in Australia and New Zealand.
    Membership: approx. 250 members
  • 1977 Indexing Society of Canada/Societe canadiene d’indexation (ISC/SCI)

    Goals/mission: To encourage the production and use of indexes and abstracts;
    to promote the recognition of indexers and abstractors; and provide communication
    among individual members across Canada.
    Membership: approx. 130
    Awards: Tamarack Award
  • 1977 Nihon Sakuinka Kyokai (Japan Indexers Association)

    Goals/mission: To promote modern methods of bibliography and indexing in
    Japan; to promote indexing and provide annual workshops on topics in indexing
    and bibliographic methods
    • Publishes a quarterly journal Shoshi Sakuin Tembo (Journal of the Japan indexers
    Membership: 250+
  • 1991 China Society of Indexers (CSI)

    Goals/mission: To promote index theory research, index compilation and
    publication. To train professional indexers.
    Membership: approx. 1000
  • 1994 Association of South African Indexers and Bibliographers

    Goals/mission: To serve and support the interests and activities of all indexers
    and bibliographers in South Africa.
    Membership: approx. 200
  • 2004 Deutsches Netzwerk der Indexer (DNI)

    Goals/mission: To promote the concept and professional status of indexing in
    the German-speaking world, and to make the occupational image of the indexer
    better known and more recognizable.
  • 2004 Netherlands Indexing Network (NIN)

    Goals/mission: To advocate the interests of indexers by promoting awareness
    for indexing as a profession among the general public and publishers. To promote
    the quality of indexing in the Netherlands by offering workshops, conferences,
    mutual learning and mentoring.
    Membership: approx. 20



1. Barkai, M. Z. Indexing in Israel. The Indexer Vol. 8 No. 1, April 1972.

2. Beare, Geraldine. Past, present and future. The Indexer Vol. 25 No. 4, October 2007.

3. Bell, Hazell K. History of Indexing Societies; Part 1. The Indexer Vol. 20, No. 3,
April 1997.

4. Bell, Hazell K. Indexers and Indexes in Fact and Fiction. University of Toronto
Press, 2001.

5. Campbell, James W. The Library: A World History. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

6. Cornog, Martha. A History of indexing technology. The Indexer Vol. 13 No. 3,
April 1983.

7. Humphreys, Nancy K. The world’s oldest profession: indexing. The Indexer
Vol. 29 No.4, December 2011.

8. Liqun Dai. Book Indexing in China. The Indexer Vol. 26 No. 1, March 2008.

9. Suarez, Michael, and H.R. Woudhuysen. The Book: A Global History. Oxford
University Press, 2013.

10. Weinberg, Bella Hass. Book indexes in France: Medieval specimens and
modern practices
. The Indexer Vol. 22, No. 1, 2000.

11. Wellisch, Hans H. Early Multilingual and Multiscript Indexes in Herbals.
The Indexer Vol. 11, No 2 October 1978.

12. Wellisch, Hans H. Incunabula Indexes. The Indexer Vol. 19 No. 1, April 1994.

13. Wellisch, Hans H. Indexing from A to Z. The H.W. Wilson Co., 1991.

14. Wellisch, Hans H. The oldest printed indexes. The Indexer Vol. 15, No. 2,
October 1986.

15. Wikipedia.

16. Witty, Francis J. The Beginnings of Indexing and Abstracting: Some Notes
towards a History of Indexing and Abstracting in Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

The Indexer, Vol. 8, No 4, October 1973.

17. Indexing Societies around the world: a brief survey. The Indexer, Vol. 29
No. 4, December 2011.

Who Should Write The Index

"Writing an index does not come naturally, like breathing. It is more like
playing the fiddle: some learn to do it reasonably well, a few will become
virtuosi, but most people will never know how to do it. This simple truth
seems lost on publishers and editors." (Source: Hans H. Wellisch, Indexing from A to Z)


Ask yourself: how much is your index worth to you in terms of book sales, royalties,
reviews, text adoptions, peer approval, and personal satisfaction? A good, professionally
written index is a road map that leads both experts and novices in
your field to every pertinent sentence you have written. A professionally written
index can have have a tremendous impact on sales of your book.

Writing an index takes understanding of the reader as well as the subject. It takes
objectivity, perspective, a sense of proportion and priority, patience, speed, technical
training and experience in indexing that takes time to master. Entrust your index to a
professional book indexer.

"Book indexing is something that you will either enjoy or detest; and there is little middle
ground. "You either have a knack for it, or you won't.” “I don’t not believe
indexing can be taught...since a very important aspect of this work comes down to the individual
indexer's judgment and communication abilities... Like other types of writing, it is a mixture of
art and craft, judgment and selection." (Source: Nancy Mulvany, Indexing Books.)


Why the Author Should not index

The author can be an expert in his/her field, but be emotionally too close to their
book to be able to write a quality index that does justice to the book's contents.

  • When writing an index, it can be difficult to decide which details to include, and
    which ones to leave out of the index. Organizing all these details into a meaningful
    web of headers and subheadings, and cross-references, can be daunting!
  • Indexing is a skill, developed over time, and the first index is usually a disaster.
    Do you really know what is involved in writing an index?
  • Writer's fatigue and yet another deadline to write the index, may be too much!
  • And don't forget the author's spouse - who may be unable to tolerate the book
    in the house for one more month, week or even one more day!


Why a Professional Indexer Should

A professional indexer has the training and experience obtained from writing
a great many indexes and the challenges associated with structuring
for easy access and retrieval.. Indexing is an art and a skill, developed over time.

  • A professional indexer has the necessary organizational and analytical skills; and
    knows the established principles of information retrieval; knows the publisher's
    style guidelines and standards such as The Chicago Manual of Style.
  • A professional indexer will write a high-quality index to your specifications, style,
    format and length. The index will be written within your time constraints and for
    the book's anticipated audience.
  • A good index adds real value to a book which increases book sales. Successful
    authors recognize that readers prefer to buy books with well written and
    organized indexes.

"If your index is not designed properly, and if it does not have
the strength that is gained by weaving the ideas together with
cross-references, double postings, and succinct entries which
make sense, then you are depriving your readers of the ability
to find information you gathered for them, the work that came
from the depths of your soul.
" L. R. Rodberg

How To Write A Book Index

The mechanics of writing an index are frequently underestimated.
Book indexing is both an art and a craft involving meticulous hard work,
clear thought, and numerous interpretations and judgments.



12 Step Guide to Book Indexing


Step 1: Plan Your time!

  • This is probably the most important factor for managing your work-flow, and hence your income. Indexing is a time intensive process. An academic book of 300 pages may take an experienced indexer 7 days to index, whereas a beginner may need two or three weeks
  • Make sure to negotiate the required indexing time with your client.

Step 2: Choose Your Indexing Source

  • Indexing from page proofs. Printed books must be indexed from the final page proofs, in final layout. If the pagination is not final, the entire book might have to be re-indexed.
  • Indexing from a PDF. Use of a searchable PDF ensures that the indexer will not inadvertently delete or alter the book’s text or layout. It also allows the indexer to easily search for additional occurrences of words/phrases elsewhere in the book, thus ensuring a comprehensive listing of entries.
  • Indexing directly from the computer screen. Some indexers prefer to work directly from the computer screen, rather than from a marked-up hard copy; however, it can be harder to comprehend the text and to discern keywords and concepts, so this may be a less effective approach for complex books.

Step 3: Prepare Your Tools.

  • Software Programs
    Professional indexers generally use dedicated indexing software programs to automate certain tasks. Such programs can be expensive and need time to learn and master; not everyone is so inclined; some may prefer to use a word processing program to enter terms and page numbers. (See also the appended list of dedicated indexing programs.)

  • Publishers’ Style Guide. The publisher’s style requirements must be clearly understood by the indexer. The primary style guide is the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. However, the indexer needs to know if a publisher has preferences for the conflation of page numbers, alphabetizing, run-in or indented style, inclusive numbers, handling of numerical headings, handling of pictures, tables and figures in the text, etc.

  • Length of the Index. Before starting to compile the index, the indexer needs to know how many pages the publisher has allotted for the index, and how the index will be laid out. There are many variables affecting the length of an index, e.g. the average number of index entries per page, double posting of entries, cross-references, and the typography and layout of the index.

  • List of Key Terms. An author may compile a list of key terms for the indexer’s use. However, a long list of terms can actually cause duplication and hinder a professional indexer’s task of structuring and compiling the index.


Step 4: Decide What to Index.

  • What to Index

    General Rules:
    • The entire text of a book, including introduction and substantive content notes must be indexed.
    • Book appendices containing supplementary information should be indexed, except when they duplicate documents discussed in the text.

    Footnotes and Endnotes:
    • If footnotes or endnotes continue or amplify discussion in the text, then they should be indexed.
    • Important and substantive endnotes should be indexed with the page number and letter ‘n’ [for note]. Example: 251n16.
    • If the endnotes or footnotes continue onto another page, normally only the first page number is given. However, if the reference in the note appears on the second page, then the second page number should be used, as it has the reference.

    Author Index and Author Name Indexing:
    • In some fields, it is customary to index every author named in the text. Check with the publisher as to the degree of inclusiveness required.
    • Authors are cited in the text usually by last name, but occasionally discrepancies occur. Make separate entries for each author whose name appears in the text, but do not index those names that are concealed under ‘et al’. in the text citation.

    Illustrations, Tables, Charts, Pictures, etc.
    • Illustrative items are indexed if important to the discussion.
    • Illustrations can be set in italics or bold. The illustration number is usually included. Alternatively, an abbreviation can be used: t or table for tables, f or fig. for figure; pl or plate for plates.
    • A head note should be placed at the start of the index, explaining how the illustration has been indexed. (Note: f refers to figure)

  • What NOT to Index

    Front Matter such as title pages, dedications, epigraphs, lists of illustrations and tables and acknowledgements, are not indexable.

    Glossaries, Bibliographies, and other such lists are usually not indexed.

    Footnotes and Endnotes: If they are source citations, then they are not indexed.

    In-Text Citations (parenthetical citations) are used to document any external sources used within a document. They are not normally indexed.

    Author Names. Do not index those author names that are concealed under
    ‘et al’ in the text citation.


Step 5: Marking Up a Hard Copy of the Text.

  • The indexer peruses the table of contents and the book as a whole, then identifies all the terms for indexing by highlighting and marking them on hardcopy. Indexers may develop their own shorthand notations.
  • Marked text greatly speeds up indexing; makes it easy to locate the context of an entry, and is helpful during the editing process.
  • Some indexers work chapter-by-chapter, making index entries as they go. My preference is to first read and mark-up the entire book, mapping out the book’s structure, and getting a grasp of all the relationships between various key ideas/phrases.

Step 6: Identify Key Terms/Phrases.

  • Identifying and understanding the key concepts of a book is essential before one can finalize the index structure. Key concepts can be broad or narrow in scope: simple or complex. Sometimes they are implied, but not stated or obvious.
  • Key terms/phrases are used in headings, but it is not a good idea to use them in subheadings.
  • Subheadings tend to represent important concepts in the book, but cannot stand alone without the key concept in the main heading to support them

Step 7: Indexing Software Settings.

  • The following are some of the basic settings:
    • Set the alphabetizing rule for the index: Chicago Manual of Style (CMS); International Standards Organization (ISO); or Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).
    • If MS Word is used, the alphabetizing default is the same as used in the white pages of your phonebook.
    • Set the locator (page) reference rules for conflation/non-conflation of locators.

    • Set the locator (page) abbreviation rule (CMS or Hart's Rules)
    • Set the number of columns in the index.
    • Set the style for headers: initial cap, all caps, bold, italic, underlined, etc.
    • Set the style of the index: indented or run-in; line spacing of the index, indentation setting, etc.
    • Set the maximum number of characters allowed in records
    • Set the font and font size for the index
    • Set the style of the index: either indented style, or run-in style. (There are also variations of these two styles.)

Step 8: Begin Indexing.

  • How to make index entries.
    • Index entries consist of three elements: a heading, a subheading, and a locator (page or page number). The entries are made either by typing tem, or by copy/pasting from the PDF.
    • Succinct entries help to reduce the density of the printed index. Dense index pages make it harder for readers to scan the index and locate information. When index entries are kept to the minimum number of words needed for clarity, the usability of the index is greatly enhanced.

  • Headings
    • Headings should be nouns or gerunds that function as nouns. The key terms identified during mark-up are input as headers.
    • Headings with more than five or six locators should be broken down into several subheadings so that readers can quickly find information.
    • Headings are alphabetized in letter-by-letter, or word-by-word order.

  • How to phrase sub-headings:
    • Subheading should be as concise and informative as possible, and begin with a keyword. Prepositions ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the’ are omitted whenever possible.
    • As a general rule, ‘and’ should not be used at the beginning of a sub-heading as it greatly reduces the ability to quickly scan the index.
    • If a number of subheadings contain the same key word, they can be made into a separate header under the keyword, with a cross-reference back to the original header.

  • Subheading sorting:
    • Subheadings can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically.
    • Symbols, hyphens, slashes and numbers are usually ignored in alphabetical sorts.
    • If required, the alphabetical sort can be modified in the indexing software to recognize three classes of characters: letters, Arabic numerals and symbols.
    • Individual characters or words at the beginning of the entry sometimes need to removed from a sort.
    • Entries beginning with numbers or symbols may need to be spelled-out.

  • Locators (page references).
    • Page ranges are often not expressed in full, but are compressed by dropping some of the repeated digits. There are different rules for the compression of numbers. Check with the publisher’s indexing style guide.
    • All occurrences of a key term/phrase must be searched using the PDF search feature to ensure that the list of page locators is comprehensive.

  • Cross-references
    Cross-references should be added to direct the reader to related topics.
    • Ensure that the cross-references match the exact wording of the headings.
    • Cross-references can also be made from subheadings.

  • Synonyms
    • Synonyms can be added to help the reader navigate and find information.
    • A cross-reference is used to connect the synonym with the corresponding key term.

  • Parenthetical phrases should be added to identify relationships for the reader (e.g. Newcastle (Australia))

Step 9: Edit the index.

  • Careful editing of the index is essential. Editing shapes the index into a cohesive unit. This involves checking headings and subheadings, spelling, capitalization and fonts, punctuation, cross-references, as well as seeking out false locators.
  • Check also for consistency and comprehensiveness of the index.
  • Identify any long strings of unanalyzed locators that require subheadings.

Step 10: Proofread the Index

  • Spelling and grammar mistakes
    • The entire index must be proofread line by line for spelling and grammar mistakes.
    • Proofing a hardcopy of the index is usually more effective than on screen.
    • Spelling should reflect that found in the author’s text.
    • Indexing software has a spell checker, which can be customized, but having the index checked by “second set of eyes”, namely a proof-reader, can be just as good if not better.

  • Incorrect locators.
    • The accuracy of page numbers (locators) is critical. Systematically carry out spot checks of page entries.
    • With indexing software, the index can be sorted by page number so that one can flag incorrect numbers. The software can also be set to prevent “out-of range” numbers from occurring.

Step 11: Format the index.

  • General comments:
    • After the index has been proofread and edited, the index should be formatted to the dimensions required by the publisher.
    • In print works, indexes are usually set with a font smaller than the main text.
    • If the main text is twelve point, the index will probably be set at eight or ten point. The index is usually set in two columns, but for large format books, indexes may be set in three or four columns.

  • Index indentation:
    • All run-over lines are indented in an index, whether the subentries are in ‘run-in’ or ‘indented’ format.
    • For indented indexes, the subentries are usually indented one em, the sub-subentries two ems, and the run-overs for all entries are three ems.
    • The indentation format must be consistent throughout the index.
    • Indexing software makes it easy by having default settings for indentation, but these can be adjusted if necessary.

  • Trimming the index:
    • If the index is too long, begin by further editing to rephrase and shorten headings or subheadings.
    • Minor or trivial entries can often be deleted.
    • Some cross-references and acronyms can also be deleted.
    • Try adjusting the layout. But be careful that you do not ruin the entire index.

  • Bad breaks:
    • The index should be checked for bad breaks in the flow of headings and subheadings. These occur at the bottom or at the top of a column. They can be readily fixed or eliminated by using a carriage return, or transposing lines from one column to another, and adding a line of white space.

Step 12: It’s done! (or you hope so)

  • Send the index off to your client … but be prepared to make any changes that may be requested


What does it take to be a Book Indexer?

Book indexing is actually a rather complex, intellectual process. On the other hand, there is no mystery involved, and the task can be learned and mastered. It needs a well-developed sense of order and punctiliousness; a good memory (especially during the compilation stage); a great deal of patience; and above-average general knowledge of the world, and often highly specialized knowledge of a particular field or discipline.

Book indexing needs a certain flair for the task of analyzing the text; for recognizing the major topics (both stated and implied); for identifying relationships of topics; for arranging terms so that they can be easily found; and for indicating the exact place in a document.

Book indexing can only be learned the hard way, by example, training, and experience. Nevertheless, there are basic guidelines, and relevant provisions of national and international standards that need to be followed. (Source: Hans H, Wellisch, Indexing from A to Z, p. 175-176)

Book indexers constantly must make value judgments as they work through the text,
deciding what to include and what to leave out of the index. That is what makes
book indexing an intellectual challenge as well as an art.

Book indexing is an organic process with the book indexer addressing large and small structural problems; wording and confusions in the text, and issues of indexibility, all at the same time.

Book indexers constantly make value judgments as they work through the text,
deciding what to include and what to leave out of the index.

The book indexer needs to assess the "degree of exhaustivity" while book indexing. "Over-indexing" or "under-indexing" are twin mistakes. Over-indexing lists too many names, topics that are trivial and have little value for the reader. Under-indexing is the omission of indexible terms which shortchanges and annoys readers.

That is what makes book indexing an intellectual challenge as well as an art - something that computers simply can not do.

Nancy Mulvany maintains that "book indexing is something that you will either enjoy or detest; and there is little middle ground. "You either have a knack for it, or you won't.” “I don’t not believe indexing can be taught...since a very important aspect of this work comes down to the individual indexer's judgment and communication abilities... Like other types of writing, it is a mixture of art and craft, judgment and selection." (Source: Nancy Mulvany, Indexing Books.)


Book Indexing Workshops and Training


Indexing Software Used by Book Indexers

Back-of-the-book indexers use stand-alone indexing software to
quickly and economically create indexes. These indexing-specific software programs have a
wealth of features, take time to learn, and are quite expensive. They can't be used for anything else except for indexing.

The major stand-alone indexing software programs are:


Indexing Journals, Bulletins, and Books

Indexing Discussion Groups


 CINDEX Users Group

The CINDEX User Group on Yahoo! is a forum for discussing Cindex, the professional indexing software program from Indexing Research. The list encourages exchange of tips, tricks, and techniques among Cindex users in its DOS, Windows, and Apple Macintosh formats.


 MACREX Users Group

The MACREX-UCB Online discussion group on Yahoo! is limited to  students enrolled in the UC Berkeley online indexer-training course and the established Macrex users.


 SKY Index Users Group

The SKYIndexUsers Group on Yahoo! encourages the exchange of tips, tricks, and techniques among owners of SKY Indexing software.


 Special Interest Groups (SIGs)

Affiliated with the American Society for Indexing. They include the following indexing interest groups: Culinary Indexing SIG; Gardening and Environmental Studies Group; Genealogy Indexing and Transcription Group; History and Archaeology Group; Legal Group; Periodical/Database Indexing Group; Politics and International Relations Group; Scholarly Indexing Group; Science and Medicine Group; Sports-Fitnesss Group; Taxonomies & Controlled Vocabularies Group; and Web Indexing Group.


 Index Cafe

Isolation plagues many indexers and Index Cafe serves as a forum to help alleviate the loneliness by connecting and building social bonds with other indexers.



A forum for aspiring and professional indexers to share information and ideas relating to various aspects of index preparation. Discussion covers index structure for books, periodicals, online text, databases, or hypermedia.


 Index Peer Reviewers

Indexers volunteers to review each other's edited indexes, which provides a rare opportunity to get feedback on indexes. By reviewing and being reviewed, we increase our awareness of good indexing technique and gain valuable feedback on our current indexing skills.



Indexstudents is for anyone interested in learning to index books, magazines, databases. Membership is open to both beginning and experienced indexers, and course instructors/teachers.


 WebIndexing Group

A forum for professional indexers who specialize in writing indexes for web sites. Indexers interested in learning about web indexing, and web site creators/editors interested in indexing are also welcome to join this group.


 LinkedIn Indexing Groups


 Facebook Indexing Groups

Book Indexing Groups, eBooks and EPUB

Automatic Book Indexing Software

Many people think that computers can write indexes for them because a word processing software program, such as Microsoft Word, has an"index generating feature". This feature outputs a concordance which is quite different from an index written by a book indexer who actually reads your book. Computers can't read for comprehension, nor decide what are key ideas or concepts - that is left to humans.

Back-of-the-book indexers use standalone indexing software to quickly and economically write indexes. These indexing-specific software programs have a wealth of features, take time to learn, and are quite expensive. They can't be used for anything else except indexing.

A concordance is just a list of words and phrases with a long string of page numbers including a lot of irrelevant information. Do you honestly think a readers check each page in a long list of page numbers? A concordance lacks focus. In contrast, a back-of-the-book index provides the location of specific information and deliberately excludes irrelevant information.

The index is the road map that leads both experts and novices to every pertinent idea and concept you have written - without all the annoying detours and dead-ends that you get with a concordance.

Knowing how to write an index takes understanding of the reader as well as the subject. It takes objectivity, perspective, a sense of proportion and priority, patience, speed, technical training and experience in indexing.

Ask yourself: how much is your book index is worth to you: income from book sales and royalties, reviews, text adoptions, peer approval, personal satisfaction. It make sense to entrust you index to a professional book indexer.


Compare a concordance and an index in the chart below:

Automatic Indexing Software

Professional Book Indexer

Automatic indexing software such as Microsoft Word produces a "concordance" which is a list of words and a long string of page numbers, which makes it difficult for readers to locate information. Indexers write "indexes"with standalone indexing software to create indexes with concise headings and subheadings and page locators that give readers the exact location of information.
Is not able to create subheadings which structurally organize ideas and concepts for quick, efficient access by readers

Indexers create both headings and subheadings. Subheadings are the real "meat-and-potatoes" of an index

Is not able to create a network of inter-relationships of concepts, name or ideas Indexers create a network of inter-relationships of concepts, names and ideas using: headings, subheadings, cross-references and double postings
Is not able to analyze the text; nor able to identify or synthesize concepts. Lacks human "subjective thinking" Indexers read between the lines, analyzing the text, identifying and synthesizing concepts whether or not they are mentioned in the text
Is not able to identify or synthesize concepts or use "subjective thinking" Indexers determine the relative importance of words and concepts by subjective thinking
Is not able to make subjective and intelligent analysis of the text Indexers identify the complex organization of concepts and ideas found throughout the text. Headings and subheadings are developed accordingly
Is not able to distinguish concepts or terms as this requires abstract thinking Indexers distinguish between terms mentioned in passing, and terms fundamental to the theme or focus of the book
Is not able to consider or anticipate how a reader will
think when looking for information
Indexers consider and anticipate how readers will
search for information.  Readers see the "added value" of an index, resulting in increased book sales
Is not able to make cross-references Indexers identify relationships and create alternate routes for information access by using cross-reference
Is not able to make double-postings Indexers double-posts words from related or synonymous terms to enhance access to information by the reader


Seth Maislin, “Troubleshooting Those Horrible Microsoft Word Index Problems”


Word's automatic tagging functionality is not indexing, but rather a concordance builder. I'm not fond of the automatic indexing features of Microsoft Word. In truth, my issue isn't that the feature exists. I have a problem with this feature being called "autoindex," as if computer-generated indexes were actually any good. They aren't. Computer-generated or automatic indexes STINK. I've had this discussion many times with many people, indexers and non-indexers alike, and we are all 100% in agreement. You can't build an index using computer logic.

Indexing with Microsoft Word (any version) isn't easy or effective. There is always something going wrong with Word's indexing features....If almost all of your page numbers are coming out wrong when you generate your index, then you've stumbled across one of the stupidest side-effects of Word's indexing functionality… Microsoft Word's functionality for page ranges is abysmal.... It is absolutely no surprise that your page ranges are a problem....There are many reasons why your entries don't appear in the index where you want them to go, but the biggest and most annoying reason is because Word doesn't actually know how to sort index entries! Word's sorting algorithm is quite rudimentary....Word is a word processor, not a publishing program; it is not uncommon that your index will get messed up by some of the internal things that Word does.

O.M. Kvern and D. Blatner. Article on indexing with InDesign CS3

Sitting down and indexing a book is — in our experience — the most painful, horrible, mind-numbing activity you could ever wish on your worst enemy. And yet, this is the kind of task that a computer should be great at, but it’s actually impossible for a computer to do a good job of indexing a book by itself... In short, indexing requires comprehension — a quality computer software, at this early stage of its evolution, lacks."

"Hire a professional indexer. The author of a text is the worst person for the job. You simply know the material too well (or, if you don’t, why in the world did you write the book?) to create a useful index. A professional indexer will read and understand your text, and will create an index that opens it up to a wider range of possible readers than you ever could. It’s what they do.

John McGhie, Article on Making an Index

Really good indexes are an even mix of science and art form, and the quality improvement a professional makes is well worth paying for. I implore you not to waste your time with a Concordance Index. Every major word-processor will do them, but it results in a huge pile of rubbish that is of very little use to the reader. The Concordance Index is a hangover from the past when people were desperately hoping to produce an “automatic index” to reduce the labor.


Who Reads Indexes?

An index written to generally accepted indexing standards should perform flawlessly,
and provide quick efficient access to information. However, if the index is poorly
written, the reader becomes frustrated and will very likely move on to the next book.

How exhaustive is the index? A book that is over-indexed lists too many names
and topics that are trivial and have little value for the reader. An index that is
under-indexed has the opposite problem: the omission of many indexable terms
which short-changes and annoys readers who can't find what they want.

Successful authors recognize that readers prefer to buy books with well written
and organized indexes. A good index has a "perceived value" because it gives the
readers quick access to information they need within a book.


The index is a map to the book; the gateway to the author's ideas

The index is for readers who actually read the book but want to look up specific
terms used by the author without having to leaf randomly through the book in hope
of finding what they want.


The index is also for readers who do not read the book but who are seeking
information by searching for various key words in the index, quickly and efficiently.


The index is for those readers with very specialized knowledge, who use the book
essentially as a reference book, to search for specific terms and concepts quickly
and efficiently.


The index is for readers with little time or patience to read the whole book.

The index is for book browsers who want to compare books and decide which to buy.

The index is for librarians who make recommendations on purchases of books, and
who search for information for their clients. Librarians prefer books with indexes.

The index is for academics and scholars who rely on indexes to find very specific
information critical to their research.

Based on the above, books with a quality index have increased book sales.
In contrast, books published without an index are not generally taken as seriously
by readers, reviewers or librarians, and book sales reflect the absence of a
quality index.




Miguel De Cervantes "... and for the citation of so many authors, 'tis the easiest thing in nature'. Find out one of these books with an  alphabetical index, and without any farther ceremony, remove it verbatim into your own; at least, such a flourishing train of attendants will give your book a fashionable air, and recommend it for sale."

Increase Book Sales

Ask Yourself: How much is the book index worth to you in terms of potential book sales,
royalties, reviews, text adoptions, peer approval, personal satisfaction?
The index is the map to your book; the gateway to the ideas and research in your book.


  •  Book readers look for good quality indexes, because indexes quickly and
    efficiently direct them to information that they are seeking within the book.
  •  Bookstore buyers and point-of-sale browsers compare books before buying
    to check for the inclusion of the secondary topics not mentioned in the chapter

  • and Google Books. Studies have repeatedly shown that books
    with good quality indexes have increased sales. That is why and
    Google Books use the "Look Inside" feature so that book buyers can examine the
    book's index before making a buying decision.

  •  Librarians and library associations make decisions about which books to
    purchase and say that books with indexes are definitely preferred.
  •  Educators and institutions recognize that professors choose textbooks that
    have citations of their own work in the index. Imagine the sales you could lose by
    alienating this particular group of readers by not including citations in an index.
  •  Peer recognition. Indexes give an indication of authors' pride in their own work,
    and their regard for fellow researchers in the citations of the index.
  •  Book reviews frequently draw attention to whether a book has or does not have
    an index. An index is invaluable for reviewers assessing a book's contents.
  •  The book indexer also adds value during book production because the indexer
    is the "last set of eyes" to read the book prior to the book going to print. Frequently
    the indexer catches last-minute typographical errors and typos that would otherwise
    be missed.


Historical Reference

  •  Hans H. Wellisch observed that "readers increasingly came to appreciate the value of indexes, and the provision of indexes helped to sell books." (Incunabula IndexesHans H. Wellisch.  he Indexer Vol 19 No 1, April 1994)