The best way to make indexes

Posted: January 17, 2017 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

A lot of books nowadays are indexed purely through mechanical referencing using the index utilities in page layout programs. This results in poor, embarrassingly bad indexes. Here’s why:

NONE of the index utilities are worth a damn, in and of themselves. They´ll pick out words, but not context, so they´ll give a lot of “false positives” where terms are used only in passing and shouldn’t be indexed; they’ll also miss where the reference should extend to the following page, but the referenced term isn’t used on it; and they’ll also entirely miss passages that are relevant but don’t use the referenced term.

At the same time, do an index manually and you’ll inevitably miss a LOT of the pages that should be indexed. Do it three times and you’ll probably get almost all of them. But you won’t.

So, do both: use the indexing utility to spot the referenced terms, discard the pages where the terms are used in passing, and also do manual indexing. Then you’ll almost get it right. Exactly right? Ain’t gonna happen, but use the indexing utility alone and your index will be awful; use manual indexing alone and it’ll be full of holes and almost as bad; but  do manual referencing once and use the utility beforehand, and you’ll almost get it right.

Do the mechanical indexing once and the manual indexing twice afterwards, and you will get it right.

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