Indexing Process

Sitting down at my desk, I get ready to start my day of work indexing a book on the religious economy of the West Indian Ocean. My most important item sits on my desk, slightly to the left of my monitor–my cup of espresso. Nothing will get done today without it.

Since this book is a deep, scholarly title, I decide to print the pages which have been downloaded off of the publisher’s ftp site. If it were a simpler book, I might have chosen to divide up my screen between my indexing software (Sky Index) and Adobe Reader and just work off the computer.

Leafing through the printed pages, I begin reading the paragraphs and decide on important terms. I then type the terms into my indexing software, which will alphabetize the headings for me and allow me to move them around. It will also calculate how many entries per page I am averaging and do checks for errors.

As I decide on terms worthy of being included in the index, I create subheadings for the terms. For example, under the term “Hindus,” I create subtitles as I read, such as:

  • anti-Muslim attitudes
  • comments on in Persian travelogues
  • importance of Bombay to
  • missionaries in South Africa
  • Pattana Prabhu community
  • Reformist associations

Often the chapter titles and subtitles of the book help me to create the initial structure of the index. Nevertheless, I have to read each line of each paragraph (indeed, every word) in order to index the text in such a way that the reader can locate concepts within the book, even if some concepts are only implied and not directly stated. Several pages of the book might discuss the concept of prejudice, but never use the term. Automated indexing would never include such abstract, implied concepts in the index, but human readers will look for such terms. (Which makes you wonder how some readers are getting by with finding information in ebooks, many of which don’t have indexes.)

And of course, I stop frequently to sip my espresso and replenish it for the many hours of reading ahead.

Tedious? Yes. But wonderfully stimulating and fulfilling at the same time.

So I read on…

Authors, get tips on writing your own index