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What You Should Know Before Working with an Indexer

Lydia Jason

Book Editing Associates

How is an index created?

Generally speaking, an indexer starts at the beginning of a book’s formal content (after prefaces and introductions) and reads through the entire book while simultaneously creating the first draft of an index by entering concepts and terminology and noting locations during the reading. After this first draft is complete, the indexer then edits the draft by parsing through similar terms, verifying page numbers, rephrasing index entries, cross-referencing, and double-posting so that the index becomes a helpful tool for readers/searchers. Then the indexer goes through and creates the final draft by reconciling all of the various elements into a cohesive whole.

How is an index formatted?

Indexers use special computer programs to compile an index. These computer programs facilitate index record-keeping, formatting, and editing processes significantly better than word processing, database, or spreadsheet programs. However, these special indexing software programs cannot identify key terms and cannot construct a usable index. The indexer creates the index straight from the reading of the text, so it is actually quite important to find an indexer who is familiar with the main topic and its concepts and specialized vocabulary. Most indexers enter the field of indexing after years of experience in other areas, and those areas become their fields of expertise.

There are three mainstream computer-based indexing programs: Sky, Cindex, and Macrex. After training on all three of these programs, I can say they are all excellent programs. Any professional indexer should be familiar with and able to use at least one of them.

How is an index priced?

Many indexers charge by the page, others charge by the hour, and still others come up with intricate formulas that account for all sorts of variables. There are some elements that may add to the cost of indexing. For instance, if the indexer must include the content of numerous endnotes or footnotes, if the project includes terms in several different languages and all must be included in the index, or perhaps the illustrations are intricate maps and the index must include each geographical reference – examples like these are all taken into account when an indexer negotiates a fair rate for services.

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