Did you know there is an American Society for Indexing?

Who knew?  Well, there is.

http://www.asindexing.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3267  (And no surprise, their website has a great index!)

I have been reading Indexing Books by Nancy C. Mulvany and am gaining respect for this (seems to me) esoteric aspect of book publication.

My journey began when it was necessary for me to index the SGS Bulletin.  I had no idea how to do it and so I made my own rules and indexed the best way I knew–intuitively.  To do better next time, I decided to read up on indexing.  Here are some “sound bites” of what I learned:

  • There are four parts to an index entry: the main heading, sub-entries, cross-references and the reference locators (usually page numbers)
  • One doesn’t index the front matter, such as the title page, dedication, table of contents, lists of illustrations or acknowledgements.  The foreword and preface are usually not indexed but do index an introduction to the content. One also doesn’t index appendixes, notes, glossaries or bibliographies. Generally, do not index footnotes or endnotes unless they are offering some unique information.
  • There is definitely an art to the writing of the sub-entries and to their grouping.
  • One does not have to include exactly the word that is included in the book, e.g. you would not have entries in a cook book for “cake” on page 6 and for “cakes” on page 10; both can be indexed under “cake.”  But, be consistent throughout the index in the use of plurals (or not).
  • There is a whole chapter on names. For names that changed due to marriage or immigration, the cross reference is a way to guide the reader to the correct location of the material they seek.  A person referred to only as a last name might be well enough known that you could index that person with their whole name, even if not mentioned, e.g. Freud or Columbus. Use cross reference for pen names.
  • The rules for indexing organizations and their acronyms vary.  If the acronym is well known, examples given were NATO and UNICEF, index under their acronym.  Some acronyms are better known as their short form than their full name, e.g. scuba or laser, and so index under their short name.
  • If the name starts with U.S. it is OK to alphabetize it with other organizations that start with United States.

So the next time you have a bunch of blueberries in the refrigerator and you want to find a recipe for something with blueberries, thank your indexer if there are various entries under the word blueberries.  The indexer had a choice of not indexing under principal ingredients.

If you cannot find what you are looking for in the index, it actually might be the fault of the indexer and not you.

TIPS: When buying a reference book, I pre-identify two or three problems I had experienced and test the index to see if I can find the answer to my question.  The book that answered these questions the easiest is the one I purchase.  After you have purchased the book, take some time looking at the organization of the index; it will be worth it to you, especially if you will be spending a lot of time with the book.  Different arrangements will make for ease or difficulty of use.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  checked out Chicago Manual of Style Online for guidance on how to punctuate books with a title and a subtitle in citations (use a colon).  (nerdy, I know.)

Mulvany, Nancy C. Indexing Books. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.


2 comments on “Did you know there is an American Society for Indexing?

  1. Allen says:

    Great information, Jill. I have been concerned about indexing and wondering what book might give me some insight into this rather esoteric world. Now I have Mulvany’s book on order.

    • jkmorelli says:

      I do recommend the book. It wasn’t as dry as I was expecting (but it is still pretty dry.) I wonder what their conferences are like! 🙂


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