The following comments are based on part of a chapter in
Compendium of Good Writing:
A number of indexing principles are suggested below. Some involve matters of taste and individual indexers may wish to substitute preferences of their own or follow an overriding house style.
- No ordering distinction should be made:
--- words with and without accents
--- words in roman and words in italic
--- words in either case.
- Lower case should, as far as possible, be used for index entries in preference to capitals.
- For ease of reference the page or paragraph numbers should immediately follow the keywords - for example:
dogs ................... 101
- Ideally, no single entry should have more than about six page or paragraph numbers. If more are called for then consideration should be given to breaking the entry down into appropriate sub-entries - for example:
guest speaker, 230, 1612-1619
escort for, 304
points of order, 716, 1620
questions to, 1628
thanks to, 230, 1622-1627
- The keywords to be used for the indexing of any subject should include also synonyms and/or related terms of the word actually appearing in the text, so that a user with a particular perspective will be able to locate the desired material. Usually the author will be in a much better position than the reader to identify suitable keywords.
- On the other hand, keywords should not be indexed just because they occur in passing on a page or if they merely point to a reference on another page. They should be listed only if something significant about the subject is being discussed.
- On occasions the Latin word passim (in various places) can be added after a range of page numbers to indicate that the subject is a theme on all of those pages without being dealt with specifically on any of them.
- Expressions starting with "the", such as "the Vatican", should be indexed as "Vatican" or "Vatican, the".
- Names starting with "Mac", "Mc" and "M'" should all be treated as starting with "Mac" and listed under "M" rather than in a separate section.
- Names starting with "Mt" and "St" should be treated as starting with "Mount" and "Saint" respectively.
- In case of doubt, compound names such as "Ker Conway" should be indexed under both "C" and "K".
- Proper names such as "de Brun" and "von Nida" should be indexed under "D" and "V" in the normal way.
- Company names such as "John Smith Limited" should be indexed under both "J" and "S".
- Index entries which start with figures and/or symbols are best placed ahead of entries starting with words.
- Abbreviations should not normally be used as keywords. Alternatively, both the full keyword and its abbreviation should be indexed.
- Entries should always use the main word of an item. Thus "existing shares" should be indexed as "shares (existing)" under "S" rather than under "E".
- If a keyword has more than one meaning in the context of a work then the entries should be expanded on the following lines:
premium (insurance), 159
premium (options), 97
premium (shares), 78
- It is generally better to show the same locators under two or more entries than to use cross-references of the "gifts - see donations" or "gifts - see also charities" type.
- Cross-references in a chain are particularly bad. For example, the following combination should on no account be used:
idle - see "unused"
unused - see "empty"
- Only one keyword should be indexed where the text uses both the singular and the plural forms in different places; the predominant version is to be preferred.
- Readers prefer page and paragraph ranges to be set out in full - for example, "211-218" rather than "211-8" or "211-18".
- The theme of any publication should not be used as a keyword for indexation purposes. Thus, for example, no useful purpose would be served by indexing every appearance of the word "tax" in a book about tax, although an entry such as "tax (definition)" could be helpful.
The following will illustrate one of the points made above:
- A passage about "car parking" really requires entries under both "C" and "P".
- A passage about "motions" really requires entries under both "M" and "R" (for "resolutions").
- A passage about "donations" probably requires entries under both "D" and "G" (for "gifts").
- A passage about "directors" probably requires entries under "B" (for "boards") and "C" (for "company directors"), as well as under the obvious "D".
- A passage about the "Commonwealth Parliament" really requires entries not only under "C" and "P" but also under "A" (for "Australian") and "F" (for "Federal").
- A passage about the "tax scale" may require entries under "T", "S", "I" (for "income tax") and "R" (for "rates of tax").