The index is the best place to begin to estimate the scope and style of a book’s contents, and it quickly guides first-time and returning readers to the information they want.
What kind of book needs an index?
Any book that isn’t a work of fiction benefits from an index, whether it’s about gardening, law, history or chemistry.
Aren’t authors the best people to index their own books?
Indexing is very time-consuming, and authors are unlikely to have access to the specialist software that helps to streamline alphabetisation and the creation of subheadings and cross-references.
Many authors find it difficult to look at their books from a reader’s point of view. An indexer is trained to regard a text from the user’s standpoint, and work out how to guide them through it most efficiently.
How long does it take to make an index?
The time required depends entirely on the book. A short book takes less time than a long book, and a complex academic text takes longer than a straightforward one. Once I know the nature of your book, I can estimate how quickly I can deliver the index.
Can’t computers do the job now?
Computers can search for keywords, but they can’t differentiate between a relevant appearance of a term or name and a “passing mention” that will give the reader nothing useful. Nor can they break up a long run of page numbers by creating subheadings.
They can’t define concepts using words that don’t appear in the text but which a user might look for.
They can’t judge when to use synonyms that point the reader to a different term used by the author – e.g. aubergine see eggplant.
A good index can only be achieved by a trained, human indexer using his or her subject knowledge, judgment and experience.