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

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.

Seth Maislin, Troubleshooting Those Horrible Microsoft Word Index Problems

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.

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

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.

– John McGhie, Article on Making an Index