It depends…

Indexing involves decision making–and the rules? Well, it depends…on what the author is writing about and other things. That does not mean that writing an index is done without “rhyme or reason” in just any fashion we feel like at the moment. There are some guiding principles, rather than strict rules or protocol.

polar times
The Polar Times

The American Society for Indexing has published  “Best Practices for Indexing“,  with a link to download this document that is found on the ASI website by clicking the tab “About Indexing” on the left-hand panel of the home page.

This document was developed by the Best Practices Committee.* Contrary to the often tongue-in-cheek comments about committee work, there was agreement on general best practices for indexing. The document also includes best practices for specialty areas such as cookbooks, medical books, children’s books, and others.

Despite agreement on general principles of what makes a good index, it’s not possible to escape the “it depends” answer to some situations. The purpose of an index is to allow the user to find the information in a book.

“The index should reflect a balance between
the author’s and users’ terminologies, thus facilitating users’
success in finding information in a text….” (p. 5)

The obligation of the indexer is to reflect accurately the material presented by the author and to provide directions that will be useful to the user. Because each document is unique that often leaves the indexer making decisions as to how the material is best represented in the index–in other words, it depends on the characteristics of the work being indexed.

While it is obvious that there must be differences in the index for a cookbook and a historical periodical document, or medical reference, there are also differences in documents on the same subject matter–the author’s perspective which must be taken into account while constructing the web that will lead the user to the information wanted so the process of writing an index often leaves the indexer to find a compatible solution for the specific work.

In other words, it depends….


  • Donna Shear (co-chairperson), Pat Rimmer (co-chairperson), Anne
    Fifer, Linnea Dwyer, and Margie Towery

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