Lucie Haskins—Jumping on the embedded indexing bandwagon—or should I? (ISC conference 2015)

Embedded indexing is still evolving as the relatively new ebook industry finds its legs. Ebook indexing is so new that it’s a bit of a Wild West, with different software, standards, and processes competing for space. Clients may hear the buzzwords and turn to you for answers. Should you make the jump to embedded indexing? Lucie Haskins looked at some of the issues you should consider when deciding.

Unlike back-of-the-book (BoB) indexing, in which you receive designed files, either in hard copy or PDF, from the client and write an index in RTF or DOCX format, which the client then typesets, embedded indexing is done in the native file, whether it’s in Framemaker, Word, InDesign, XML, or HTML. You tag the text with index terms and send the file back to the client. In Haskins’s words, “You receive their baby, you manipulate their baby, and you send it back to them. It’s a huge responsibility.”

Some limitations of native indexing modules

Creating terms

  • No index preview
  • No autocomplete of index entries
  • Tiny marker boxes
  • Poor control of special strings, such as page range, italic or bold formatting, and cross-references

Editing terms

  • No change propagation of index entries
  • No index preview
  • No viewing indexing entries in the document
  • No temporary grouping of index entries

As a result, Haskins said that you can expect to spend 50 to 100 percent more time on embedded indexing compared with BoB indexing.

Some benefits of native indexing modules

Creating terms

  • Autogenerated entries

Work process

  • Indexer can start before final pages
  • Indexing concurrent with proofreading
  • Potential reuse in future editions, other formats

Issues specific to embedded indexing

  • access control and time constraints
  • software versions
  • version control on files and downloading/uploading

You and your client will have to discuss what software (and what version of that software) to use. For example, if you and your client are using different versions of InDesign, one of you will have to convert the file to IDML. If you don’t have the client’s fonts, your system will substitute a font that will affect flow and pagination, which means that the final index would have to be regenerated by the client. At that point, the client would have to be responsible for formatting text to italic, because InDesign doesn’t allow italicized text in index entries. Each entry has to be formatted manually. and the formatting disappears whenever the index is regenerated.

Should you bother with embedded indexing? Haskins says you shouldn’t feel you have to, unless existing or prospective clients have approached you directly about it and you have an interest in it. Haskins doesn’t recommend jumping on the bandwagon otherwise, because the field may evolve into something else entirely in a few years. For example, there are hints that BoB indexing using anchors at the paragraph level may be where the field ends up. It would use techniques familiar and intuitive to indexers and would obviate the need for specialized software. Buying all of the software and upgrading your equipment would be a significant investment of money; educating yourself and your client on the software and the process would be an investment of time.

If you do want to learn embedded indexing, however, Haskins suggests

JoAnne Burek—Business continuity and disaster preparedness for freelancers (ISC conference 2015)

JoAnne Burek drew on her thirty-six years in IT to show freelancers how we can prepare our businesses for sudden and unplanned incidents, which can cause irreparable damage to our brand or revenue loss. Business continuity and resiliency planning (BCRP) involves

  • Business impact analysis
  • Plans, measures, and arrangements
  • Readiness procedures
  • Quality assurance

Business impact analysis

Evaluate each of your business’s resources and categorize them into critical and not critical. Critical resources are those that could cause loss of revenue or damage to credibility. Consider also financial legal requirements. Some sample questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I have enough savings in case of an extended outage?
  • What’s the replacement cost of my equipment?
  • What will I need to fulfill my tax obligations—and when?

Plans, measures, and arrangements

Further classify your digital records into permanent files (e.g., business number, contracts) versus dynamic files (e.g., correspondence, meeting minutes, schedules), which may affect how you organize and protect them. Create an emergency list of people you need to contact if you or your business are in trouble.

Implement mitigations to outage risks by backing up the files on your computer to an external hard drive or the cloud (Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Docs), but be aware that some clients may not allow you to store their data on U.S. servers because they are vulnerable to search and seizure via the PATRIOT Act. To save you time, use a scheduling service that backs up automatically.

Burek came across CrashPlan, a service that automatically backs up your files to an external hard drive or on another computer, such as one in the home of a trusted friend. This system lets you have an offsite backup without saving to the cloud.

CrashPlan also has built-in encryption. If you’re using Dropbox or Google Docs, you may want to consider other encryption systems like VeraCrypt or 7-Zip (technically data compression tool that also has optional encryption).

To prevent the security threat from using a universal password for all of your accounts, use a password manager such as LastPass or KeePass.

Finally, use anti-malware software, such as Avast for Windows or Sophos for Mac.

Burek suggests implementing these practices immediately to mitigate risk:

  • Perform regular backups
  • Save your work frequently
  • Keep your cellphone charged
  • Stay ahead of your work projects
  • Have a backup credit card
  • Have an emergency fund
  • Keep a list of cafés or other Wifi hotspots
  • Plan migrations carefully
  • Wait before upgrading
  • Create a recovery disk for your computer
  • Consider installing an uninterruptible power supply.

Readiness procedures

Build a plan that you will follow if you have to recover from an unplanned incident. Burek told us about her approach: she considered the two resources that were key to her business—her house and her computer. For each major disaster scenario (“I don’t have my computer,” “I don’t have my house,” and “I don’t have my computer or my house”), Burek considered how she would respond. Your plan should go into more detail so that you can read it like a checklist during a time of crisis.

Burek also noted that governments provide a lot of resources for disaster preparation—see, for example, Emergency Management BC, Alberta Emergency Management Agency, and Ontario Emergency Management.

Quality assurance

How will you know your plans will work? You have to test them regularly—Burek suggests annually, at a minimum. Confirm, for example, that you can retrieve a file from backup and that you can restore files on a hard drive. You could also rehearse what you would do in a possible scenario without actually contacting the support people you may need. Further, make sure your plans are up to date when there are major changes to your environment (e.g., new computer, new software) or to a threat.

Heather Ebbs & Thérèse Shere—Making time: Working wisely so you can play more (ISC conference 2015)

What can indexers do to work more efficiently? Heather Ebbs and Thérèse Shere offered some productivity tips at the Indexing Society of Canada conference.

The physical setting

For Ebbs, “to live in chaos was to live in a prison. Order freed the mind for other things.” Try to give yourself room to work comfortably, and consider ergonomics: make sure your monitor is big enough, your references are conveniently at hand, and your space is set up to minimize distractions. “It’s hard to get into a working groove if your physical setting isn’t right.”

Your work routine

Keep an activity log—one that goes beyond tracking work time. What are you really doing with your time? Figure out what time of day is your most productive, and build your routine around it. Identify “productivity pits” that eat away at your time, and adjust your routine or physical environment to eliminate them.

Ebbs subscribes to the “only handle it once” view: if you’re going to read email, read it once, answer it, and archive it, rather than reading it and leaving it for later, when you’ll have to read it again. When you submit your index, submit your invoice at the same time. Enter your receipts as soon as you get them, and file them.

Shere’s activity tracking is quite detailed: she keeps a spreadsheet that includes

  • project title
  • invoice date
  • client
  • editor
  • number of pages
  • rate
  • time spent (she uses a punch-in, punch-out clock)

You may also consider adding in a column for how long it takes a client to pay you and one for how much you enjoyed the project.

“Even if you’re a procrastinator, you’re probably not a procrastinator at all things,” Shere said. Figure out what topics you like working on; you’ll be more productive if you truly enjoy your work.


Do the math: annual earnings = earnings/hour × hours/year

How much do you want to work? Make your projects worth your while, or don’t do them. If you feel you’re being underpaid, you’ll feel resentful, your attention will wane, and you’ll end up spending more time on the project, not less. Learn to say no. If you take a project at a cheap rate, you’re really subsidizing that project.

Professional development

Learning how to make yourself better and more productive, which will free up time for you later. Learn how to use software to its highest capability. “I’m not usually a fan of absolutes,” said Ebbs, “but I can guarantee that 100% of you aren’t using your software to its maximum capability.” Use macros and other timesavers.

Attention management

Be attentive to how you feel about your work and your work day, said Shere, and recognize where problems, frustrations, and weaknesses might be coming from. Shere uses the Pomodoro technique, devoting twenty-five-minute blocks to focusing on a single task, then taking short (five-minute) or long (ten minute) breaks. “Breaks are not optional,” she said. “Build them in and track them.” Make your goals and changes small and specific, and you’ll be more able to make progress.

“Don’t turn what should be joys into chores because you’re not managing your time well,” said Ebbs. Can you ask for help or delegate your obligations? Would it be more efficient to hire someone to meet them? Learn when to say no to these obligations and interruptions, even if it means screening your calls or closing your door. Figure out which activities are non-negotiable, and schedule them in. “A short pencil is better than a long memory,” said Ebbs. Writing things down will free your mind to focus on other priorities.

“We choose how to spend our time,” said Ebbs. “It’s not true that other people have more time. Everyone has 24 hours. No one else is stealing your time. If your time is being stolen, it’s an inside job.”

Sylvia Coates—An ethical indexing practice (ISC conference 2015)

Sylvia Coates, who developed UC Berkeley’s extension indexing course, gave the opening keynote about ethical indexing practice at the 2015 Indexing Society of Canada(ISC)  conference in Victoria. She shared her story of how she became an indexer and showed that “if you live ethically, you won’t have ethical dilemmas in indexing.”

According to Coates, there are four aspects of living an ethical life:

  • Manage your fears
  • Be teachable
  • Be a problem solver
  • Be generous

Manage your fears

Coates started by telling us about her marriage to her high school sweetheart. “By the time I was twenty-four,” she said, “we had four children—four boys—younger than three-and-a-half. You get very organized very quickly when that happens.” Being a mother taught her a lot of organization and getting along with people—skills that serve her well in her indexing career.

When her children were nearly grown, she wanted to go back to school. “It bothered me that I’d never had a paying job,” she said. Her husband asked if she could find something to do at home. She began talking to everyone she met about what they did and how they got there. When she volunteered at the local newspaper, she came across an ad for indexing. She wasn’t sure if indexing would suit her, but the seed had been planted. She heard about an indexing convention in San Francisco and drove there on a whim, sneaking in the back during a session. A participant at the convention turned around, introduced herself to Coates and welcomed her warmly. That indexer was none other than master indexer Bev Anne Ross, who had designed the USDA indexing course and introduced Nancy Mulvany to indexing.

At the convention Coates learned about Bev Anne’s three-day course, which she took. Many of the other students were technical writers who’d been forced to attend by their employers. At lunch on the first day, Coates sat bewildered as she heard her classmates complain about the course, which she found fascinating. She became convinced that she could make a career out of indexing.

Nobody had told her, said Coates, that it was almost impossible for someone to break into indexing unless they already had a foot in the publishing industry—particularly a woman who had no job experience. But that ignorance meant Coates wouldn’t be discouraged before she started, and by the end of her first year as an indexer she had already worked on forty indexes.

Her first job came to her almost accidentally: her husband bought a motorcycle (to her chagrin) and discovered that the seller was a priest who headed a publishing house, Ignatius Press. Coates’s husband left her information with the priest and, within a few days, “Sister Lemon called, hysterical, and said she needed an indexer.”

Coates talked to Carolyn McGovern at the American Society for Indexing, who patiently gave her a list of questions to ask the client—how many pages, how much room, format, and so on. Coates had two weeks to complete the index and was paid $1.60 per page. “Someone paid me for something I did!” she said. But by the midwinter conference, which Coates was involved in organizing, she found herself among experienced indexers and lapsed into doubt: “I got impostor syndrome. I thought, ‘I am a housewife.’”

Impostor syndrome is a scary but natural reaction, Coates said, and you need to manage that fear. “Fear can paralyze you… It’s important to learn to say, ‘I have no idea how to do this. Can you help me figure it out?’” Managing that fear, however, doesn’t mean ignoring it. Be realistic, because fear can be a life saver. Coates recommends reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, who write about listening to those subconscious cues about when a situation might be bad.

Be teachable

Being teachable is the most important trait that indexers should have, said Coates. “Learning a new way to think can be intimidating and frustrating.” She told us about her worst learning experience in seventh-grade math, when she asked her teacher for help. Her teacher simply replied, “Just do it,” without taking the time to explain the concepts that would have helped Coates learn.

In contrast, Coates speaks fondly of her best learning experience: an introductory physics course that she took in college. “It was the only undergrad course taught by the dean of the physics college,” said Coates. “He would give a lecture, and you could go if you wanted. TAs gave a multitude of tutorials. The test was always an essay test—you either knew it or you didn’t. If you didn’t like what you got on the test, you could do it as many times as you wanted, even if it took you several semesters.”

“This guy taught me an important lesson,” said Coates. “He taught me that you can learn anything if you’re given the opportunity and if you want to.”

Coates has adopted this lesson in her own teaching: her students can do the course as many times as they want, but they have to understand the fundamentals before they can move forward. “We very much control what we do and what we do not learn,” said Coates. “All things being equal, it depends on your mindset.”

Our education system is not well set up to encourage the risk taking that promotes learning, she said. “I don’t know about you, but I fail all the time. If you are afraid of failure, you will never fail, but you will never move forward, either.”

Be a problem solver

“We need to listen to our fears to prevent problems,” said Coates “and realize that there is no situation that cannot be made worse with whining. If the editor hears you, you will never work for them again. The problem is not ‘the author is an idiot.’ The problem is not ‘the editor should have told you.’ The problem is whatever the problem is.”

Identify the real problem and try to solve it, not to get the editor off your back or to prove that you’re right. “If you need help to solve the problem, even professional help you have to pay for, you do it.” Keep in mind that the book is the author’s baby and that you’re “messing with their baby.” Disassociate yourself from the index: remember that you’re being paid to create a product—you don’t own it. Coates suggests reading Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, which spends some time talking about the futility of getting into pissing matches.

Be generous

“If you don’t have this last one,” said Coates, “I think you’ve really missed the boat.” Generosity is one of the criteria Coates uses when selecting instructors for her UC Berkeley course. Teaching is a way that Coates gives back to her community. “Teaching made me a much better indexer. I had to deconstruct the process. I gained knowledge and understanding of how to do it and why.

In addition to being generous with students, Coates believes that you should also be generous with other indexers: “What if Bev Anne Ross hadn’t introduced herself at that convention? I might have been too intimidated to pursue indexing.”

Finally, we should be generous to our clients. She knows of some indexers who say that they don’t keep a list of proofing errors they find because that’s not their job, but an indexer works with a text in a way that makes some types of errors—even some that proofreaders may miss—obvious. “I have no problem when clients consider me a genius for finding those errors,” said Coates, to laughs. She also told us about a fellow indexer who’d had a stroke and was hospitalized. The indexer’s sister contacted the client to let them know that the index wouldn’t be ready, which was generous on her part. Coates finished that index (in reality she started from scratch) and asked the client to forward her pay to the original indexer, who by this time had racked up substantial medical bills. Responding to Coates’s generosity, the client ended up paying them both.


All of these points are terribly important for our mental health,” said Coates. “And we have to be kind to ourselves, too.”

Indexer–author relations—Enid Zafran (ISC conference 2014)

Enid Zafran is a past president of American Society for Indexing and served on its national board for over six years. Among the books she has co-edited are Starting an Indexing Business, Index it Right! Advice from the Experts, and a couple of titles in the Indexing Specialties series, including one about legal texts and one about scholarly works. In 2010, Zafran’s contribution to the indexing profession was recognized with the Hines Award from the ASI. That same year, she became a certified indexer with the Institute of Certified Indexers.

Zafran runs the business Indexing Partners, which has clients ranging from academic presses, professional and textbook publishers, nonprofit associations, and authors. At the Indexing Society of Canada conference, she drew on more than thirty years of experience to tell us a bit about how to main good indexer–author relations.

Her talk focused on the times the indexer interacts directly with the author, as opposed to a publisher. These clients may have publishers who have asked them to find an indexer, or they may be self-publishing. “Self-publishing authors need a lot of hand holding,” said Zafran. They may be caught off guard by what’s involved in the indexing process, as well as how much it costs.

When an author first approaches you to do an index, ask for details of the job, including topic, word or page count, schedule, length limits on the index, and, if they’re working with a publisher, the publisher’s style. Ask to see some sample chapters before you commit; knowing the title and word count of a book may not be enough to tell you how dense the text will be and how much indexing it will need.

If an author supplies you with a list of terms, Zafran suggests including them in the index as a matter of course and importing them directly into your indexing software. “It’s easier to be agreeable and accept author lists,” she said. Further, when discussing a potential job with an author, “express some enthusiasm,” said Zafran. The author has put a lot of time into writing the book, and as indexer, you’re one of its first readers. A little enthusiasm goes a long way to establishing a good working relationship.

When discussing schedules and deadlines, explain your process and stress that you’ll need to work from final pages. Be sure to build in time for the author to review the index. Zafran tells her clients that her fee covers two hours of editing; additional changes would be charged by the hour.

This is also a good time to see if the project is big enough to warrant breaking it down into several milestones, both for author review and for payment. Zafran will sometimes ask a new client for a 25 per cent deposit before the job begins. “If they’re not willing to pay, you might have trouble getting money later,” she said. Zafran expects payment within thirty days of invoicing and charges a 16 per cent late fee. For rush jobs, she also charges a rush premium fee. Having worked with academics on scholarly books, she warned us about universities, which may require you to be registered with the them as a vendor. If you invoice without being registered, your payment could be delayed.

If the author is overseas, the bank may charge for a wire transfer. Inform clients that you’ll be adding that fee from the wire transfer to your invoice.

Once you firm up the job with the client, make sure you have written confirmation where they agree to the terms. Stay in touch before the job begins to make sure everything is still on schedule.

When indexing starts, explain to the author that you’ll need to go away and work—and tell them when you’ll have an index ready for them to review. “‘Can I see a draft?’ is one of the most dreadful things you can hear an author say,” quipped Zafran. No matter how much you try to explain that the draft is not the final index, the author will always have some reason to be unhappy with it.

When it comes time for the author to review the finished index, Zafran said that if she’s had good relations with the author thus far, she’ll send them both the indented and run-in styles. At this stage, four common complaints may surface:

1. The index doesn’t have all of the names I had in my book.

You’ll have to explain to the author that, in standard indexing practice according to the Chicago Manual of Style, names in front matter, acknowledgements, and notes aren’t included in the index. “With authors, when you cite the Chicago Manual, the discussion is over. You’ve invoked the word of God,” joked Zafran.

2. The index doesn’t pick up every occurrence of a term.

Zafran suggests using Sherry Smith’s term of “lesser mention” to explain why a term wasn’t indexed rather than the harsher “passing mention.” Also explain that an index differs from a concordance and that the indexer’s job is to lead users to substantive, helpful information.

3. Sometimes the index uses cross-references for acronyms; sometimes there are page numbers. Why the inconsistency?

Explain that entries with only one or two page numbers warrant double-posting rather than cross-referencing. Double-posting saves the user time, whereas cross-referencing saves space. With only one or two locators, there is no net space savings.

4. The topic of the book is barely indexed.

As tempting as it is to respond with, “Well then the whole book would indexed under that one heading, so what good would that be?” you’re more likely to get a favourable reaction if you explain “how the metatopic merits special treatment in the index,” said Zafran. Today, it’s considered a best practice to mirror the book’s chapter and subchapter structure under the metatopic heading, and most authors appreciate that this approach reflects the way they’ve dealt with the topic in the book.


Once you’ve submitted the index to the author’s satisfaction, send an invoice that includes the due date and a reminder of your late fee. Zafran will waive that fee if the client is only a bit late or is making a clear effort to comply. Make sure you have distinct numbers for each invoice—otherwise some clients (like universities) may not process payment. Once a payment is overdue, start calling. The client may not answer, but seeing you on call display may be enough to remind them that they owe you money. Finally, said Zafran, don’t be afraid to assert your copyright on your index to prompt late payers to pay.

If a job has gone well, remind the client that your business is built on word-of-mouth referrals and ask them to recommend you to other authors who could use your help.

Indexing a moving target: Ontario Hansard’s approach (ISC conference 2014)

Rosalind Guldner, Cheryl Caballero, and Erica Smith work together to produce the index for the Ontario Hansard, the official record of the province’s legislative assembly and its standing committees. Their team recently won the Web & Electronic Indexing SIG Award for excellence in web site indexing, and at the ISC conference, they shared their insights on team indexing approaches, indexing a constantly changing and growing text, and adapting to the demand for electronic indexes.

The Hansard is a serial: the House sits Monday through Thursday, and House debates have to be transcribed, edited, and proofed within twenty-four hours. The index and research group aren’t quite on such tight timelines—they have to produce final speaker and subject indexes only after the session ends—but they do index and edit as they go and also help the Hansard team with fact checking and other research. The index is bilingual, but the Hansard is transcribed and indexed in the language spoken only.

The team has found that assigning one primary indexer and editor to each index (one for the House debates and one for the committees) yields the best consistency. They also keep a subject authority list to help standardize their headings and subheadings. This list grows continually and changes as heading terms go in and out of style. For example, whereas MPPs (Members of Provincial Parliament) used to say “physicians,” they’re more likely today to say “doctors.”

The House index is based on the transcripts of debates about bills, oral questions, members’ statements, and statements by the ministry, and the indexer faces a number of challenges. First, Question Period is fast paced, and there isn’t always enough time to provide context, so the indexer must constantly keep on top of current events to know what’s being discussed. Second, the content can be unpredictable: because nobody knows when the session will end, non-substantive content now may later resurface as substantive content, so it’s hard to know how specific to go with subheadings. Third, people read the Hansard to determine legislative intent, so indexers must provide several alternative access points to the information. Finally, indexers have to maintain neutrality. The transcript is substantially verbatim and editors are restricted from sense making, but MPPs go off topic constantly and are often crafty about using language that is only tenuously related to the topic.

The committee indexer works with transcripts from standing committees and select committees. Sometimes committees are given special mandates, and occasionally the committees will hear from witnesses. Although witness statements are recorded and transcribed, they are not indexed; only members’ questions and reactions are indexed. The committee indexer will often use the House index as a guide, although the subject matter can be discussed in finer detail, so the committee index may have more headings or subheadings.

The Hansard indexing team is constantly editing their index, issuing daily updates to the online House index and twice-weekly updates to the online committee index. Once the session ends, they do a final “big picture” edit before producing final print and online versions of their indexes. The print versions are sent to depository libraries all over the world.

The Hansard is still printed on paper, as it’s used as a legal record, and paper indexes have been used since 1949. For the past dozen years or so, the indexing team at the Ontario Hansard have also provided an online index. They use HTML/Prep and Webprep to convert indexes created in CINDEX to HTML. Right now there’s no tagging yet—the locators link to the top of a page, and the user has to use search function on that page to find what they need.

In the future, the team hopes to tag content directly; create a linked, tagged index to audio or video content; and provide “live” headings, where they listen live during the debate and provide quick access to popular content such as oral questions and members’ statements. They also aim to expand their role, spotlighting their indexing skills and reference resources to create useful reference lists, and maybe one day to index other assembly content, including the Members’ Guide and the Standing Orders (rules of Parliament).

Indexing in Adobe InDesign Creative Cloud—Judy Dunlop (ISC conference 2014)

Thanks to the advocacy efforts of the American Society for Indexing’s Digital Trends Task Force and the International Digital Publishing Forum’s Indexes Working Group, Adobe has heard the pleas of indexers to allow embedded indexing in InDesign to output linked indexes. In the Creative Cloud version, launched June 2013, InDesign can generate a linked index in multiple digital formats, including PDF, EPUB, and HTML.

The Indexing Society of Canada’s Judy Dunlop has done one project using the new Creative Cloud workflow, and she gave us an overview of what she learned through that experience. Dunlop had almost exclusively done back-of-the-book indexing for scholarly clients but decided to venture into digital index a couple of years ago. She took InDesign indexing workshops offered by Jan Wright and Lucie Haskins, and trained herself on InDesign through tutorials on

For indexers and publishers to work together on an embedded index in InDesign, said Dunlop, they need to use the same version. The Creative Cloud version is the only one that produces linked indexes from the embedded tags, and it is available by subscription only, so an indexer who doesn’t ordinarily have to use InDesign can easily subscribe to the program for a month, then cancel the subscription once the project is over.

In a typical workflow, the publisher would supply the indexer with the live InDesign files that have been edited and proofread. The indexer may embed tags directly in the InDesign file or create an index first in dedicated indexing software (such as CINDEX, SKY Index, or Macrex) then convert the locators into markers using a script available through Kerntiff Publishing Systems. InDesign’s index entries don’t include italics, bold, or decorations such as n for “note,” so the designer has to apply those styles manually. Every time the indexer revises the live file, the publisher has to regenerate the index and reapply special styles. Good communication—directly between designer and indexer—is key, said Dunlop. Designers who have traditionally been given a static index to typeset won’t be used to the process of regenerating and reformatting the index.

Many publishers will not have tried this workflow. Some haven’t yet moved to Create Cloud because of subscription costs. Further, many of them will be reluctant to relinquish control of their live files. As the indexer, if you are allowed to work with the live files, you have to be particularly careful not to make any inadvertent changes to them. (It’s theoretically possible to tag in Word and import into InDesign, but, Dunlop said, that feature is buggy and is generally not recommended.)

Allegedly, said Dunlop, you don’t need the publisher’s fonts to do the index, but on her project she found that the font mismatch caused problems. If the publisher offers you fonts, take them.

So far, Dunlop has found that force sort, indented vs. run-in style, and multiple levels of headings are features that work well in InDesign. However, the program doesn’t seem to handle cross-references well: not only are they not linked, but multiple cross-references are not rendered in the usual style (e.g., “See also Vancouver, BC. See also Kelowna, BC” rather than the preferred “See also Kelowna, BC; Vancouver, BC”), and generic cross-references have to be manually italicized. As mentioned, the designer also needs to apply special formatting, such as italics, bold, and decorated page numbers.

Because cross-references aren’t linked, Dunlop suggests double-posting instead. She also advocates being as succinct as possible, because long entries create unsightly breaks in EPUBs.

The linked-index functionality in InDesign Creative Cloud is so new that “everyone is learning,” said Dunlop. Publishers, editors, designers, and indexers will need to work together to figure out a system that works well for them. “Experiment—you’re not going to know what you’re going to get until you try it—then learn from your mistakes,” said Dunlop. Once you’ve got one project under your belt, you’re already in a better position than most and can share what you’ve learned with others.

If you have a client who is reluctant to try the workflow, Dunlop suggested that you offer to create an embedded index for a backlist title that still sells well and is available as an ebook. The risk to the publisher is lower than for a frontlist title with a tight deadline, and you can help them become familiar with the new indexing process.

Health and science indexing tips and hints—Mary Russell (ISC conference 2014)

Mary Russell, representative from the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers, gave us a glimpse into her bag of tricks for indexing health and science texts.

“If you wear an editor’s hat,” she warned, “you’ll have to get comfortable sitting on your hands.” The terminology in health and science can be quite daunting, with eponyms, an idiosyncratic mix of British and American spelling, chemical names, drug names, botanical names, and so on. Medicine and science are full of alternative names, abbreviations, and precise distinctions between categories of varying complexity. You’ll have to use more cross-references and know your audience so that you can guide your readers to the terms preferred in the text.

Eponyms—diseases or body parts named after a person or place—are common in medicine and can be tricky because punctuation and possession can be lost. (Should it be “Braxton Hicks contractions” or “Braxton-Hicks contractions”?) Double-check with an authoritative source to get these right.

The use of British versus American spellings may also seem inconsistent; a book published in the U.S. may use British spelling because that’s what the profession uses. “Follow the profession,” said Russell, “not necessarily the nationality of your audience.”

Chemicals can have many alternative names—for example, vinegar can be known as a dilute solution of acetic acid, ethanoic acid, glacial acetic acid, among other names. If you have room in your index, offer your readers the most common of these as multiple access points.

Drug names “can get frightfully complicated,” said Russell. “Drug names really test your typing, because they simply do not make sense.” Drugs have a class name, a drug group, a drug name, and a trade name. It’s important to provide as many of these as possible in the index, because people may be looking up drug names and side effects in a crisis situation, and your index is the entry point.

For scientific names, classification to the level of genus and species is usually all that’s needed. Plant names are very structured, but common names and cultivars can add confusion. Although sometimes you may see zoological names inverted (species, genus), don’t do that with botanical names.


If you’re working in health and science indexing, you can turn to several different types of resources to guide you and help you understand terminology and conventions.

Dictionaries and thesauri

Specialized subject dictionaries are great resources. Sometimes they’re available as an app, which may be cheaper to buy than the print edition—or you can get a short-term subscription for your project.

For medicine, refer to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s medical subject headings (MeSH). MeSH terms can clarify the hierarchy of terms, alert you to alternative terms, help with alternative spellings, help with politically correct terms, and clarify the use of abbreviations.

Style guides

Russell recommended the following style guides:

Name authorities and taxonomies

Many scientific areas have authorities that can be consulted online:


Get to know indexers who also work in science and medicine, and talk to subject experts, perhaps the work’s author or editor, to get a handle on the terminology that the audience is likely to look for.

Ten principles for creating better indexes—Margie Towery (ISC conference 2014)

Margie Towery, two-time winner of the American Society for Indexing’s award for excellence in indexing, not to mention an indexer of The Chicago Manual of Style, treated Indexing Society of Canada conference-goers to a three-hour seminar covering ten principles for creating better indexes.

An index, said Towery, should

  • help readers find specific information faster
  • have an easy-to-use structure
  • reflect the text
  • provide multiple entry points.

Indexing is both an art and a science; when we choose what to index, we rely on reason, experience, and intuition. To create better indexes,

1. Consider your audience

Who are the readers, what are their expectations, and what terminology might they look for? Towery suggests getting familiar with terminology by referring to

  • subject dictionaries
  • similar books
  • the author’s previous works
  • the author’s website
  • the press website
  • online searches on the topic

Also refer to the book’s table of contents and introduction, as well as the author’s concept list, if it’s offered. Some indexers refuse to work with an author’s concept list, a position Towery doesn’t understand. To her, it’s easier just to include those terms in the index and keep the author happy.

Add cross-references as soon as you see the opportunity—for example, if the author mentions using two terms interchangeably.

For a long project, Towery encourages immersing yourself completely in the subject, using other books, movies, music, and art.

2. Consider the metatopic

How to treat the metatopic can be controversial among indexers. Towery believes that the metatopic main heading is a keystone to the index and can be a teaching tool, as new users may naturally want to start looking in the metatopic.

A good approach may be to begin with a table of contents structure that points readers to the main headings that will let them find what they need. You may also find mind mapping helpful; there are apps that can turn a mind-map into an outline for you.

Refer to the “indexing” heading in Hans H. Wellisch’s Indexing from A to Z for an example of a metatopic done well.

3. aim for accuracy

  • Ensure the terms accurately reflect the text (more on that later) and are spelled correctly.
  • If you’re providing dates for events or years for legal cases, make sure those are accurate.
  • Disambiguate similar names—e.g., Smith, John (dentist); Smith, John (doctor).
  • Don’t allow subheadings to make adjectives of main headings.
  • Cross-references have to be accurate and consistent, in spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
  • Triple-check accuracy of double-postings.
  • Make sure your page locators are accurate—not only that they point to the right pages but also that they are of the right type. Should 2, 3 be 2–3? Are the locators correctly formatted according to press style?

4. Aim for comprehensiveness

“In best-case scenarios,” said Towery, “every index would be comprehensive—that is, it includes all substantive information and provides multiple ways of finding the information.” In reality, however, we face space, time, and wage limitations, so the key is to achieve balance. Indexers have to consider the many ways a user might “name” and search for something.

5. Aim for conciseness

Encapsulate meaning in as few words as possible: avoid using a fifteen-letter word when a five-letter one means the same thing. Balance jargon with everyday language. (Although clarity, reflexivity, accuracy, and audience issues are equally important.)

In some cases, conciseness may trump specificity (for example, if the heading “railroad development” has only two locators and “railroads” only one, you might want to combine them under one heading.)

6. Aim for consistency

Topics of equal weight in the text should be treated similarly in the index, both in depth and specificity. Do they have similar numbers and types of locators and subheadings?

Also ensure that you have consistency in

  • cross-references (Are cross-references from similar entries—e.g., initialisms—treated the same way?)
  • formatting details (e.g., does the text use the serial comma? Where are you placing your cross-references?)
  • structure (i.e., headings should be parallel)

Finally, said Towery, don’t be afraid to be consistently inconsistent. In some situations, you have to bend rules for headings of a certain type. Just ensure that all of the headings in that category are treated the same way, and you won’t confuse your readers.

7. Aim for clarity

“The relationship between the main and the subheading must be instantly obvious,” said Towery. “Indexers shouldn’t have to figure out what’s meant.” That’s why function words like as, of, by, and so on, are so critical. “They should not be used willy-nilly,” said Towery, “but to clarify the main–subheading relationship.” Towery also cautioned that a phrase like “influence of” can be ambiguous. Be clear by specifying “influence on” or “influence by.”

Keep in mind that “words reverberate neurolinguistically differently in different people,” said Towery. Choose between terms like terrorists and revolutionaries carefully, keeping in mind that the headings should reflect the text but also help readers find what they need.

Names may benefit from glosses to clarify who they are or what their relationship is to key players in the text.

Towery also challenges us to “love the alphabet: use the alphabet not only to keep the most important word in front but also to keep logic in the subheadings whenever possible.” Fortunately, birth comes before death in the alphabet, but illness comes after death. You might need to get creative with your wording or force sort for chronology.

8. Aim for readability

Check out Susan Olason’s “Let’s get usable! Usability studies for indexes” article in The Indexer. The article notes that commas can be confusing, especially for reversals, and that table of contents–styled entries and indented formatting is more user friendly. Interestingly, Caroline Diepeveen mentioned research in the Netherlands that showed run-in subheadings are easier to read. Towery suspects that may be because run-in subheadings force indexers to be clearer and more succinct. Indented styles work better with technical texts; run-in may work better for narratives.

Towery noted the need to chunk information to accommodate the fact that we can keep only a few bits of information in short-term memory at a time.

Don’t use old indexing devices like ff. and passim., which most readers don’t understand.

Tips for readability overlap considerably with the other principles for creating better indexes:

  • Use a visible metatopic structure.
  • Include parallel structure where appropriate.
  • Be consistent in the treatment of topics.
  • Be sure the relationships between main and subheadings are unambiguous.
  • Place the most important word first in the subheadings whenever possible.
  • Avoid jargon, especially in subheadings.
  • Use the alphabet for logical progressions.
  • Clarify subheading meanings with function words.
  • Consider clumping and gathering similar subheadings.
  • Sort out long entries into more approachable chunks.
  • Avoid inversions whenever possible.

Although Olason found that indented styles were more readable, they also have their own problems. If a series of subheadings start with the same function word (e.g., on), they can create what Towery calls “gridlock” or eyeball barriers. Reword the subheading if needed to prevent this problem.

Towery also cautions that our training and work have biased our thought process. We may not be objective about what makes an index usable. If you can, show your index to someone else, a reader who can provide more unbiased feedback.

9. Aim for reflexivity

“An index should reflect the text from which it comes,” said Towery. “The index internalizes the text. But it’s not simply a regurgitation of the text in alphabetical order.” Indexers digest books to create an approachable alphabetical and structured index from the text.

Reflexivity also applies to the tone that characterizes the text. However, Towery says that an index doesn’t need to carry forward the author’s biases. Use neutral headings and subheadings to point to the text, where the author’s voice and opinions can take over.

10. Use common sense

Use natural, everyday language whenever possible. Make sure that the index makes sense to all of its possible audiences and that it’s usable by a variety of people. Again, sometimes you need to break the “rules”—with experience, you’ll get a better sense of when and how you should overrule standard practices to make a better index.

Read other indexes and critically evaluate how well they work, why, and what could be done differently. To evaluate what makes a good index, use the American Society for Indexing’s checklist for its excellence in indexing award.


Beyond these ten principles, Towery emphasizes the need for

  • cross-training: “Keep indexing skills fresh by learning other related skills,” she said. She finds that trying to summarize a book in a haiku helps her distill the text into its essence and achieve the precision and conciseness that an index needs.
  • napping: It’s scientifically proven to increase alertness, boost creativity and the ability to see connections, strengthen memory, clarify decision making, and improve productivity. Towery suggests reading Sara Mednick’s Take a Nap!

For an eye opener, Towery recommends reading What Is an Index?, a book Henry Wheatley wrote back in 1878 that discussed a lot of the same issues we are dealing with today.

Food for thought: the expanding universe of cookbook indexing—Gillian Watts (ISC conference 2014)

Gillian Watts, a past president of the Indexing Society of Canada, is an avid cook who’s always been drawn to cookbook indexing. Frustrated by not being able to find what she needed in a Time-Life series of cookbooks she owned called Foods of the World, Watts began cataloguing the recipes and ingredients in the series using index cards. She has since indexed about 140 cookbooks on a variety of topics, from breadmaking to gluten-free recipes to Indian cuisine.

Why index cookbooks?

There’s a big market for cookbooks today, particularly those focusing on healthy foods or cuisine from other countries, as well as those written by celebrity chefs.

Cookbooks are also comparatively easy, if you already know how to index. They’re “not a strain on intellectual faculties,” said Watts, and you can make “quick bucks, though not necessarily big bucks.”

What’s more, cookbooks are fun: every book has a different challenge, a “different world of sensory delights,” although, warned Watts, they “can lead to frequent snacking.”

Indexing approach

As with any index, know your client’s preferences before you begin, although sometimes the publisher doesn’t know what they want. In cookbooks there seems to be a preference for letter-by-letter sorting, and generally you need only one level of subhead. “Only once did I have to go to two levels,” Watts said.

Some publishers ask indexers to use special formatting, such as italics or bold, for main entries, particular techniques, or images.

“As a matter of practice,” said Watts, “I over-index. It’s easier to cut stuff out later rather than add it back in.” Watts keeps the main headings lowercase singular, to take advantage of her indexing software’s autocomplete function.

Bear in mind that the cookbook author had a reason for giving the recipes the titles they have, so try to preserve the original syntax when indexing. Also, Watts will index any ingredient in a recipe name, even if very little of it is used.

Knowing how to cook is a huge asset to a cookbook indexer; it’s important to understand the flavour profile of ingredients. An experienced cook, for example, would recognize that 1/4 cup of cilantro has more flavour than a 1/4 cup of parsley—and that it would have more influence in 2 cups of sauce than an 8-serving stew.

Cross-references are also important: often fresh and dried ingredients are used very differently.

Watts keeps a “staples list” that sets the threshold for which certain ingredients (e.g., beer, breadcrumbs, butter, carrots) make it into the index, but, she emphasized, you need to be flexible. In books for parents or for people with health problems, foods normally considered staples (e.g., flour) may become important to know about—and hence important to index.

For common cookbook terms, Watts has added a series of abbreviations to her software that autocorrect to the longer word—e.g., ch will render as chocolate. This trick saves her keystrokes and is especially useful for terms with accented characters.

The metatopic can be tricky for books that focus on a particular ingredient. For a book about quinoa that Watts worked on, where every recipe included quinoa, she indexed special forms of quinoa, such as “quinoa flour” and “quinoa flakes,” and implied that anything not listed simply used quinoa.

In cookbooks that have a health component as well as recipes, the index entries sometimes make “awkward bedfellows.” You may end up with “unappealing juxtapositions of symptoms and recipe items” and may need to get creative with wording. In one project she recommended using two separate indexes in order not to ruin the reader’s appetite.

Editing and trimming

Once you’re done data entry, edit the index, eliminating all one-entry headings. Check all cross-references.

The number of entries isn’t the same as the number of lines; some recipes have long, descriptive titles. The number of entries should be about 85 per cent of the lines available.

If space is at a premium, get rid of entries beginning with cooking techniques; people look up food, not techniques. Staple products and flavourings are also good candidates for cuts. “Sometimes you have to cut your pet entries,” said Watts, and “it’s important not to clutter the index with trivialities, even if they sound yummy.”

You may also want to group similar ingredients, such as berries, nuts, seafood, and so on, for space. “Sometimes I cheat and use the flavour profile rather than the actual food,” said Watts. For example, the entry “apple” would include applesauce, apple juice—basically anything that tastes like apple.


If the universe of cookbook indexing appeals to you, Watts recommends the following resources:

Watts also suggests looking at indexes in your own cookbooks. Which are useful? Which are irritating? And makes them so?


(Related: See my post about cookbook indexing using Microsoft Word.)