Index (publishing)
An index is a list of words or phrases ('headings') and associated pointers ('locators') to where useful material relating to that heading can be found in a document. In a traditional back-of-the-book index the headings will include names of people, places and events, and concepts selected by a person as being relevant and of interest to a possible reader of the book. The pointers are typically page numbers, paragraph numbers or section numbers. In a library catalog
Library catalog
A library catalog is a register of all bibliographic items found in a library or group of libraries, such as a network of libraries at several locations...

 the words are authors, titles, subject headings, etc., and the pointers are call numbers. Internet search engine
Web search engine
A web search engine is designed to search for information on the World Wide Web and FTP servers. The search results are generally presented in a list of results often referred to as SERPS, or "search engine results pages". The information may consist of web pages, images, information and other...

s, such as Google
Google Inc. is an American multinational public corporation invested in Internet search, cloud computing, and advertising technologies. Google hosts and develops a number of Internet-based services and products, and generates profit primarily from advertising through its AdWords program...

, and full text searching help provide access to information but are not as selective as an index, as they provide non-relevant links, and may miss relevant information if it is not phrased in exactly the way they expect.

Earliest examples in English

In the English language, indexes have been referred to as early as 1593, as can be seen from lines in Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. As the foremost Elizabethan tragedian, next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his mysterious death.A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May...

's Hero and Leander
Hero and Leander (poem)
Hero and Leander is a mythological poem by Christopher Marlowe. After Marlowe's death it was completed by George Chapman. Henry Petowe published an alternate completion to the poem.-Publication:...

of that year:

Therefore, even as an index to a book

So to his mind was young Leander's look.

A similar reference to indexes is in Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

's lines from Troilus and Cressida
Troilus and Cressida
Troilus and Cressida is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1602. It was also described by Frederick S. Boas as one of Shakespeare's problem plays. The play ends on a very bleak note with the death of the noble Trojan Hector and destruction of the love between Troilus...

(I.3.344), written nine years later:

And in such indexes, although small pricks

To their subsequent volumes, there is seen

The baby figure of the giant mass

Of things to come at large.

But according to G. Norman Knight, "at that period, as often as not, by an 'index to a book' was meant what we should now call a table of contents."

Among the first indexes – in the modern sense – to a book in the English language was one in Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

's Parallel Lives
Parallel Lives
Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, commonly called Parallel Lives or Plutarch's Lives, is a series of biographies of famous men, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, written in the late 1st century...

, in Sir Thomas North
Thomas North
Sir Thomas North was an English translator of Plutarch, second son of the 1st Baron North.-Life:He is supposed to have been a student of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and was entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1557. In 1574 he accompanied his brother, Lord North, on a visit to the French court. He served as...

's 1595 translation. A section entitled "An Alphabetical Table of the most material contents of the whole book" may be found in Henry Scobell
Henry Scobell
Henry Scobell was an English Parliamentary official, and editor of official publications. He was clerk to the Long Parliament, and wrote on parliamentary procedure and precedents.-Life:...

's Acts and Ordinances of Parliament of 1658. This section comes after "An index of the general titles comprised in the ensuing Table". Both of these indexes predate the index to Alexander Cruden
Alexander Cruden
Alexander Cruden was the author of an early concordance to the Bible, and also served as Alexander the Corrector, a self-styled national corrector of signs, books and morals.-Early life:...

's Concordance (1737), which is erroneously held to be the earliest index found in an English book.

Indexing process

Conventional indexing

The indexer reads through the text, identifying indexable concepts (those for which the text provides useful information and which will be of relevance for the text's readership). The indexer creates index headings, to represent those concepts, which are phrased such that they can be found when in alphabetical order (so 'indexing process' rather than 'how to create an index'). These headings and their associated locators (indicators to position in the text) are entered into specialist indexing software which handles the formatting of the index and facilitates the editing phase. The index is then edited to impose consistency throughout the index.

Indexers must analyze the text to enable presentation of concepts and ideas in the index that may not be named within the text. The index is intended to help the reader, researcher, or information professional, rather than the author, find information, so the professional indexer must act as a liaison between the text and the its ultimate user.

Indexing is often done by freelancer
A freelancer, freelance worker, or freelance is somebody who is self-employed and is not committed to a particular employer long term. These workers are often represented by a company or an agency that resells their labor and that of others to its clients with or without project management and...

s hired by authors, publishers or book packagers
Book-packaging is a publishing activity in which a publishing company outsources the myriad tasks involved in putting together a book—writing, researching, editing, illustrating, and even printing—to an outside company called a book-packaging company...

. Some publishers and database companies employ indexers.

There are several dedicated, indexing software programs available to assist with the special sorting and copying needs involved in index preparation. The most widely known include Cindex, Macrex, PDF Index Generator, SkyIndex and TExtract.

Embedded indexing

Embedded indexing involves including the index headings in the midst of the text itself, but surrounded by codes so that they are not normally displayed. A usable index is then generated automatically from the embedded text using the position of the embedded headings to determine the locators. Thus, when the pagination is changed the index can be regenerated with the new locators.

LaTeX is a document markup language and document preparation system for the TeX typesetting program. Within the typesetting system, its name is styled as . The term LaTeX refers only to the language in which documents are written, not to the editor used to write those documents. In order to...

 documents support embedded indexes primarily through the MakeIndex
MakeIndex is a computer program which provides a sorted index from unsorted raw data. MakeIndex can process raw data output by various programs, however, it is generally used with LaTeX and troff....

 package. Several widely-used XML
Extensible Markup Language is a set of rules for encoding documents in machine-readable form. It is defined in the XML 1.0 Specification produced by the W3C, and several other related specifications, all gratis open standards....

Document Type Definition
Document Type Definition is a set of markup declarations that define a document type for SGML-family markup languages...

s, including DocBook
DocBook is a semantic markup language for technical documentation. It was originally intended for writing technical documents related to computer hardware and software but it can be used for any other sort of documentation....

 and TEI
Text Encoding Initiative
The Text Encoding Initiative is a text-centric community of practice in the academic field of digital humanities. The community runs a mailing list, meetings and conference series, and maintains a technical standard, a wiki and a toolset....

, have elements that allow index creation directly in the XML files. StarWriter
StarOffice Writer
Oracle Open Office Writer is the word processor component of the Oracle Open Office software package. It was formerly known as StarOffice Writer, and before that, StarWriter. Writer is based on Writer and is similar to Microsoft Word and Corel's WordPerfect.- History :StarWriter was...

/ Writer Writer Writer is the word processor component of the software package. Writer is a word processor similar to Microsoft Word and Corel's WordPerfect, with some of their features....

, Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word is a word processor designed by Microsoft. It was first released in 1983 under the name Multi-Tool Word for Xenix systems. Subsequent versions were later written for several other platforms including IBM PCs running DOS , the Apple Macintosh , the AT&T Unix PC , Atari ST , SCO UNIX,...

, WordPerfect
WordPerfect is a word processing application, now owned by Corel.Bruce Bastian, a Brigham Young University graduate student, and BYU computer science professor Dr. Alan Ashton joined forces to design a word processing system for the city of Orem's Data General Corp. minicomputer system in 1979...

, FrameMaker
Adobe FrameMaker is a document processor for the production and manipulation of large structured documents. It is produced by Adobe Systems. Although FrameMaker has evolved slowly in recent years, it maintains a strong following among professional technical writers.- Overview :FrameMaker has more...

, and most other Word processor
Word processor
A word processor is a computer application used for the production of any sort of printable material....

 have some facility for embedded indexing as well.

An embedded index requires essentially the same amount of work to create as a conventional static index; however, this work differs slightly in character as the original source files are being edited, which may slow the process or prove distracting. An embedded index saves considerable work if the material will be updated even infrequently.


Indexes are designed to help the reader find information quickly and easily. A complete and truly useful index is not simply a list of the words and phrases used in a publication (which is properly called a concordance
Concordance (publishing)
A concordance is an alphabetical list of the principal words used in a book or body of work, with their immediate contexts. Because of the time and difficulty and expense involved in creating a concordance in the pre-computer era, only works of special importance, such as the Vedas, Bible, Qur'an...

), but an organized map of its contents, including cross-reference
A cross-reference is an instance within a document which refers to related or synonymous information elsewhere, usually within the same work. To cross-reference or to cross-refer is to make such connections. The term "cross-reference" is often abbreviated as x-ref, xref, or, in computer science,...

s, grouping of like concepts, and other useful intellectual analysis.

Sample back-of-the-book index excerpt:
sage, 41-42. See also Herbs ← directing the reader to related terms
Scarlet Sages. See Salvia coccinea ← redirecting the reader to term used in the text
shade plants ← grouping term (may not appear in the text; may be generated by indexer)
hosta, 93 ← subentries
myrtle, 46
Solomon's seal, 14
sunflower, 47 ← regular entry

In books, indexes are usually placed near the end (this is commonly known as "BoB" or back-of-book indexing). They complement the table of contents
Table of contents
A table of contents, usually headed simply "Contents" and abbreviated informally as TOC, is a list of the parts of a book or document organized in the order in which the parts appear...

 by enabling access to information by specific subject, whereas contents listings enable access through broad divisions of the text arranged in the order they occur. It has been remarked that, while "[a]t first glance the driest part of the book, on closer inspection the index may provide both interest and amusement from time to time."

Index quality

Some principles of good indexing include:
  • Ensure each of your topics/sections includes a variety of relevant index entries; use two or three entries per topic
  • Understand your audience and understand what kind of index entries they're likely to look for
  • Use the same form throughout (singular vs. plural, capitalisation, etc.), using standard indexing conventions

Indexing pitfalls:
  • Significant topics with no index entries at all
  • Indexing 'mere mentions' --- "But John Major was no Winston Churchill..." indexed under 'Churchill, Winston'
  • Circular cross-references: 'Felidae. See Cats' --- 'Cats. See Felidae'
  • References to discussions of a single topic scattered among several main headings: 'Cats, 50-62' --- 'Felidae, 175-183'
  • Inconsistently indexing similar topics
  • Confusing similar names: Henry V of England, Henri V of France
  • Incorrect alphabetization: 'α-Linolenic acid' under 'A' instead of 'L'
  • Inappropriate inversions: 'processors, word' for 'word processors'
  • Inappropriate subheadings: 'processors: food, 213-6; word, 33-7'
  • Computer indexing from section headings: e.g. 'Getting to know your printer' under 'G'

Indexer roles

Some indexers specialize in specific formats, such as scholarly books, microforms, web indexing
Web indexing
Web indexing includes back-of-book-style indexes to individual websites or an intranet, and the creation of keyword metadata to provide a more useful vocabulary for Internet or onsite search engines...

 (the application of a back-of-book-style index to a website
A website, also written as Web site, web site, or simply site, is a collection of related web pages containing images, videos or other digital assets. A website is hosted on at least one web server, accessible via a network such as the Internet or a private local area network through an Internet...

 or intranet
An intranet is a computer network that uses Internet Protocol technology to securely share any part of an organization's information or network operating system within that organization. The term is used in contrast to internet, a network between organizations, and instead refers to a network...

), search engine indexing, database indexing
Index (database)
A database index is a data structure that improves the speed of data retrieval operations on a database table at the cost of slower writes and increased storage space...

 (the application of a pre-defined controlled vocabulary
Controlled vocabulary
Controlled vocabularies provide a way to organize knowledge for subsequent retrieval. They are used in subject indexing schemes, subject headings, thesauri, taxonomies and other form of knowledge organization systems...

 such as MeSH
Medical Subject Headings
Medical Subject Headings is a comprehensive controlled vocabulary for the purpose of indexing journal articles and books in the life sciences; it can also serve as a thesaurus that facilitates searching...

 to articles for inclusion in a database), and periodical indexing (indexing of newspapers, journals, magazines).

Some indexers with expertise in controlled vocabularies also work as taxonomists
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

 and ontologists
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...


Some indexers specialize in particular subject areas, such as anthropology, business, computers, economics, education, government documents, history, law, mathematics, medicine, psychology, and technology. An indexer can be found for any subject.


  • ISO 999:1996 Guidelines for the Content, Organization, and Presentation of Indexes (this is also the national standard in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand)


See also

  • Back-of-the-book index
    Back-of-the-book index
    -Introduction:A back-of-the-book index is a collection of entries - often alphabetically arranged - which are made in order to allow users to locate information in a given book ....

  • Concordance (publishing)
    Concordance (publishing)
    A concordance is an alphabetical list of the principal words used in a book or body of work, with their immediate contexts. Because of the time and difficulty and expense involved in creating a concordance in the pre-computer era, only works of special importance, such as the Vedas, Bible, Qur'an...

  • Indexing and abstracting service
    Indexing and abstracting service
    An abstracting service is a service that provides abstracts of publications, often on a subject or group of related subjects, usually on a subscription basis. An indexing service is a service that assign descriptors and other kinds of access points to documents...

  • Subject indexing
    Subject indexing
    Subject indexing is the act of describing or classifying a document by index terms or other symbols in order to indicate what the document is about, to summarize its content or to increase its findability. In other words, it is about identifying and describing the subject of documents...

  • Web indexing
    Web indexing
    Web indexing includes back-of-book-style indexes to individual websites or an intranet, and the creation of keyword metadata to provide a more useful vocabulary for Internet or onsite search engines...

Further reading

  • Booth, Pat (2001) Indexing: The Manual of Good Practice (K. G. Saur), ISBN 3-598-11536-9
  • Borko, Harold & Bernier, Charles L. (1978) Indexing Concepts and Methods, ISBN 0-12-118660-1
  • Browne, Glenda and Jermey, Jon (2007), The Indexing Companion (Cambridge University Press), ISBN 978-0-52168-988-5
  • Mulvany, Nancy (2005) Indexing Books, 2nd ed. (University of Chicago Press) ISBN 0-226-55276-4
  • Smith, Sherry & Kells, Kari (2005) Inside Indexing: the Decision-Making Process (Northwest Indexing Press), ISBN 0-9771035-01
  • Stauber, Do Mi (2004) Facing the Text: Content and Structure in Book Indexing (Cedar Row Press) ISBN 0-9748345-0-5
  • Wellisch, Hans (1995) Indexing from A to Z, 2nd ed. (H. W. Wilson) ISBN 0-8242-0807-2

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.