A book without an index is a bit like a town without road signs. Easy enough to find things if you already know where they are – but if you don't, there's nothing to point you in the right direction. A good index helps the reader to find what they're looking for quickly and easily, and enhances their experience of the book. Whether it's a cookery book, an academic text, an instruction manual or a general non-fiction book, it's important that the content can be readily accessed.
Designing an index that is comprehensive, clear and easy to use is something that requires training and practice. Selecting the concepts to be included must be done with the user's needs in mind. An index also needs a structure – with subheadings and cross-references to help the reader navigate the information presented. Authors know their texts better than anyone but often have little experience of indexing – they can find it an arduous task and don't necessarily achieve the results they'd hope for. A professional indexer is practised in selecting relevant concepts and presenting them in a user-friendly way.
A computer can identify particular words and phrases, record the pages where they occur and sort them very efficiently. However, it can't identify concepts that are not explicitly named in the text, group together references to a subject which are phrased in different ways, or distinguish passing mentions from significant discussion. It's not a good judge of what's useful and relevant, and what isn't. These require the skill of the indexer in analysing the content of a book.
Lisa Scholey MSocInd(Adv)
Freelance Indexing and
10 Ascal Mara, Kilcrohane,
Co. Cork, Ireland