Preparing an Index
"I'm always embarrassed when I see an index an author
has made of his own work.
It's a shameless exhibition--to the trained eye.
Never index your own book."
-Cat's Cradle, by
Kurt Vonnegut (1963)
warning notwithstanding, it is not only possible for an
author to draft the index to his/her own book, it is often
better or worse, no one knows a book better than its creator,
and no one is better equipped to catalog its contents.
Below are some tips for drafting a concise and
effective index in a timely fashion.
the book's index, read the text for proper nouns.
Dictionary.com defines proper
noun as "a noun that is not normally preceded by an
article or other limiting modifier, and that is arbitrarily
used to denote a particular person, place, or thing without
regard to any descriptive meaning the word or phrase may
have a noun that denotes a particular thing." A more concise definition identifies proper
nouns as simply "any noun that denotes a particular
thing." (emphasis added)
are usually capitalized, and therefore easily distinguished
within the text.
Common Noun Sample Proper Noun
William J. Clinton
Space Center Clean Room #3
A good index
will also anticipate its readers' intuitions and direct
them accordingly. For example, a reader interested in U.S. Naval
history might understandably consult "navy" in the index. Because "navy" is sufficiently broad, however,
the index should direct them toward more appropriate sub-headings.
- see: United States Navy, 23, 45, 93; Royal Navy of the
United Kingdom, 8, 33
The best way to prepare an index requires a hardcopy
of the final laid-out page proofs and a word processor.
The author should then proceed through the final
page proofs page-by-page, compiling entries and respective
page numbers within the word processing software, alphabetizing
manually as each new term is added.
This allows the author to edit, omit, and insert
entries where appropriate.
Please use Microsoft Word or compatible word processing software to compile the index, rather than other software such as a spreadsheet, because this will facilitate copyediting and layout of the index.
NASA is aware
that software programs exist which are designed to aid
authors with indexing. For a variety of reasons, NASA encourages its
authors to index their books manually.
Software programs operate in one of two ways. First, the program will simply index everything
in the book. This
is wholly unhelpful, however, as the purpose of an index
is to facilitate easy reference and navigation.
The second manner in which software programs compile
indices requires more legwork of the author.
The author identifies key names and concepts, the
repeated presence of which the program then locates in
the text. Because
authors will have already identified the items to be indexed,
however, NASA encourages authors to index manually in
order to prevent errors.
For more information
The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, has an excellent guide to the "mechanics of indexing." This 15th edition is the latest of this book and was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2003.