I’ve just finished an index from the second-pass proofs of a comprehensive medical book (it includes all systems, biochemistry, microbiology, public health, et cetera). The book is 672 pages of very condensed information in an almost tabular format so the material is written in a terse manner (to say the least). Needless to say, it’s a long index with multiple entries per page.
Sure, I know I’m not supposed to rewrite the book, and that I also need subheadings for major topics–and I know that one of the important functions of an index is to gather information so that the reader can access it easily. But sometimes it seems that there is a very fine line between rewriting the book and providing an appropriate level of granularity for the user, especially in a reference-like work.
Throughout the preparation of this index, I’ve been wrestling with this dilemma in choosing what goes in as a main heading. My tendency to OCD is good with this kind of indexing–but I need to be sure that it doesn’t get out of hand either. The information that needs to be accessible spans normal anatomy and physiology, embryonic development, diseases and diagnostic signs and methodology to the much more granular level of the results of specific laboratory tests, and metabolic pathways, metabolites, and glitches in these pathways.
The Potomac Indexing blog post on “Main Headings in Indexes: The First Priority” was just what I needed to focus my final revisions of the index–a reminder to think very carefully about my main headings.