What practices will help me with good index term selection?

Term selection is a key factor that determines the quality and usability of an index. Good index terms are clear, concise, intuitive, meaningful, and accurate. But what practices will help you achieve these qualities in your indexing work?

In his article for The Indexer, Zhang Qiyu (indexer consultant and information management professor, Nanjing Institute of Politics Shanghai) dives deep into term selection, exploring what term selection means, how to identify what is and what is not indexable, and matters such as structure and design of the index. In the article, he identifies several key practices that will help you select terms for a useful and effective index.

1. Always keep user needs top of mind

Consider what is relevant to the text’s audience and how they might search for what they need. For example, does the term reflect current usage? Would a synonym or variant form be more intuitive for index users?

2. Be familiar with the subject area

Understanding the text and its purpose helps you select terms that appropriately reflect the contents and are suitable for the audience.

3. Reflect topics from the text alone

Do not add information to the index that is not in the text. Where possible, index terms should be identical to the text’s terms. However, at times you may need to use variants or alternative terms if more useful to index users.

4. Include both explicit and implicit topics

Consider the text from different angles. Are there significant unspoken meanings and relationships within the text that would be useful or illuminating for index users?

5. Make connections within the index structure

Using double-postings and cross-references among the terms creates multiple access points to information. These elements can assist a wider variety of users and reveal meaningful interconnections.

6. Eliminate clutter

The greater the range of items in the index, the more useful it will be for different users. However, index terms must lead to information that is substantive and relevant to the text’s subject, purpose, and audience. Indexing topics that are irrelevant or only mentioned in passing will obstruct efficient searching.

Read Zhang Qiyu’s full article for free in The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing (Vol. 27, No. 3) at liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/doi/10.3828/indexer.2009.32

The Middle-Agers’ Guide to Navigating the Change to Freelancing Indexing (and other freelance careers)

If you are considering a midlife career change to freelance indexing or other self employment, you will find yourself in good company. Many freelance indexers come to the profession later in life, often as a second, third, or fourth career.

Transitioning indexers relish the new benefits, such as greater autonomy and authenticity. At the same time, they face new challenges, such as loneliness and dealing with a change in identity.

To better support career transitioners, we partnered with a team of senior honours psychology students in a Community Engaged Research project at The King’s University (TKU) in Edmonton, Alberta.

To our delight, the team came through with a wealth of information that will orient and guide aspiring midlife indexers as they pursue their new, fulfilling career. Visit Indexing as a New Career in Midlife today!

The path to becoming a freelance indexer

Most book indexes are written by freelancers. That’s fantastic news if the freelancing lifestyle is something you’ve been looking for. But it does throw a complication into your journey to professional success. It means you now have two priorities—to become good and fast at indexing and to become good at marketing and managing your business.

To earn a living as an indexer, you need to build your indexing skills and build your business almost simultaneously. Where you will struggle is in dividing your focus between these two areas on a week-to-week or day-to-day basis. The uncertainty of “what should I be working on now” may even make you feel paralyzed.

However, if you could see the whole path to becoming a freelance indexer, you’ll see that there are different priorities at different stages along the way. Knowing where you are on the path and where you are headed will relieve your stress and help you keep moving forward.

This article presents a proven path to a freelance indexing career. The path has four stages—Exploring, Learning, Establishing Your Business, and Gaining Momentum and Profit. In this article you’ll discover at each stage what actions to focus on and what distractions to put aside. You’ll also learn how to know when you are ready for the next stage.

1. Exploring

The focus at this stage is to determine if indexing excites you. You already know you love books, and the thought of “getting paid to read books” sounds awesome. But you are about to invest a lot of time and money. This is the time to discover if indexing really is for you.

Actions you should take now

  • Read the articles in the category “For aspiring indexers” on the Indexing Society of Canada / Société canadienne d’indexation (ISC/SCI) website (indexers.ca).
  • Ask questions of freelance indexers.
    • Attend an ISC/SCI regional chat. These chats occur about six times a year and are open to anyone. The events are posted on the indexers.ca calendar.
    • Or you can contact info@indexers.ca if you have a specific question.
  • Do Mi Stauber, author of Facing the Index, says, ” I encourage people to read a bit about indexing and then actually try indexing a textbook in a field they are familiar with. I tell them they will be confused, but they will either be confused and exhilarated or confused and deeply frustrated. If it’s the first, that’s a sign to continue exploring.” She adds, “In my experience, it’s very possible to fall in love with the idea of indexing, only to find that you hate the actual decision-making process.”

Distractions to put aside

Despite everything you’ve just read in the introduction above, do not worry yet about how you’re going to find clients or run your indexing business.

You are ready to move on when

You can clearly see yourself indexing and enjoying it.

2. Learning

Biggest focus

The focus of this stage is training, practice, and networking with other indexers.

Actions you should take now

  • You must take training to write indexes. Here is a selection of courses available.
  • When you finish the course, practice your skills as much as you can. You could even write an index for free.
  • Join the ISC/SCI. Membership will give you access to participate in the national chats so that you can make friends with indexing colleagues. You will also be able to join the private ISC-L discussion group and have access to other members-only resources.
  • Consider joining other discussion groups listed on that page, such as the Index Peer Reviewers.
  • Think about the types of subject matter that would be the easiest and most fun for you. Having a few specializations or a niche will make it easier to focus your marketing when you get to the next stage. Note: you can change your specializations at any time.

Distractions to put aside

In the discussion lists, you will see conversations on advanced topics, such as embedded indexing and the quirks of various publishers. Ignore these discussions while you are still learning the indexing basics.

You are ready to move on when

  • You have developed a routine for practising your indexing skills.
  • You have chosen your specializations.

3. Establishing your business

Biggest focus

Now is the time to start attracting paying clients. This will come from reaching out to publishers and from building relationships with your fellow indexing colleagues. They can help guide you, and if they get to know you and your interests, they may refer their clients to you when they have too much work in their schedule.

Actions you should take now

  • Upgrade your ISC/SCI membership to a listed profile.
  • Write your LinkedIn profile and start following and engaging with publishers you would like to work for.
  • Attend ISC/SCI events and offer to volunteer on a project or a committee so that your fellow indexers can get to know you.
  • Build a portfolio of samples from your practice work. Make sure your samples include indexes in your specializations.
  • Seek out feedback on your work.
  • Start building a personal library of indexing resources.
  • Start reaching out to publishers in your specializations.

Distractions to put aside

  • Being afraid of sounding like a newbie.
  • Worrying about the logistics of running a business.
  • Waiting to have the perfect website and the perfect profile. Keep in mind that “delivered” beats “perfect.”

You are ready to move on when

  • You feel confident in the quality and consistency of your work.
  • You have completed a few published indexes.

4. Building momentum and profit

Biggest focus

You have proven to yourself that you can get clients and deliver finished indexes on time. You’ll find that the learning and business-building doesn’t stop. Now is the time to:

  • Standardize your business with routines and templates.
  • Level up your skills to improve your efficiency and the quality of your indexes.
  • Build your expertise and authority in your specialties so that you can attract better clients and projects.

Actions you should take now

  • Improve your indexing techniques and technical skills.
  • Publish authoritative content on your website and/or on LinkedIn or other social media.
  • Offer to give a presentation at an indexing conference or workshop.
  • Be a partner to your steady clients by recommending other qualified indexers when you have too much work.

Distractions to put away forever

  • Saying “yes” to projects that don’t meet your standards
  • Resisting raising your rates for fear of losing work.

Everyone’s journey to a profitable freelance indexing career is going to be a little different—the actions you take may not be identical to the ones suggested here. You’ll do what works for you.

However, don’t skip networking with your colleagues, even if you don’t like the idea of networking. Having colleagues will help make your journey less frustrating and more enjoyable. Take the path one stage at a time instead of trying to pursue everything at once. As long as you know where you are in your journey, you’ll know at the moment what needs attention and what can be ignored. Soon you’ll be on your way to running a thriving indexing business.

Editors and publishers want to know: What makes a good index?

In an interview with publisher Sandra Uschtrin, indexer Jochen Fassbender described some key qualities of a good index.

What does a good index look like?

The key qualities include:

  • Good term selection: The heart of quality indexing. Entries must be clear, meaningful, accurate to the text, and complete with locators. This is why indexing of a print book should take place only after the text pagination is final.
  • Comprehensive and consistent coverage of all important details and passages.
  • Entries for both implicit and explicit subjects (i.e., not simply a list of names and keywords).
  • All references to a topic consolidated under one “preferred” term, even if the text uses multiple terms to refer to that topic
  • Synonyms added to increase access points, either pointing to the preferred term via “see” cross-references or repeating the preferred term’s locators (double-posting).
  • Related index entries point to each other with “see also” cross-references.
  • Absence of passing mentions: This means the indexer did not index a word that is only in the text for illustrative purposes or otherwise does not provide significant information.
  • Accurate and explicit locators: Commas and dashes are used to distinguish between intermittent discussions of a topic on consecutive pages (e.g., 514, 515, 516) and continuous discussion of a topic on consecutive pages (e.g., 635-637). Furthermore, the start and end of page ranges are listed explicitly (e.g., 635-637 instead of 635 ff).
  • Ideally, main entries with more than 5 or 6 locators broken down into subheadings.
  • Appropriate length: Typically 4-5% of the length of the indexable material, and even 10% or more for reference works. Below 3.5% may be problematic.

Indexes with these traits add value to the text by ensuring users can efficiently find all substantive concepts, details, and facts.

What should editors and publishers look for in an indexer?

Read the complete interview—including Fassbender’s take on the “deadly sins” he wants indexers to avoid—for free in The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing (Vol. 29, No. 1) liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/doi/10.3828/indexer.2011.4

Fassbender also talked about some of the things that an indexer needs to produce quality work:

  • Training and practice: Essential for producing good analytical indexes
  • Ability to anticipate users’ needs and questions
  • Some knowledge in the book’s subject area
  • Indexing software: Indispensable for increasing the speed of indexing by handling and automating technical components

Read the complete interview—including Fassbender’s take on the “deadly sins” he wants indexers to avoid—for free in The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing (Vol. 29, No. 1) liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/doi/10.3828/indexer.2011.4

What are some ways that indexers market their services?

As freelance indexers, you can’t sit back and expect jobs to come to you. It’s on you to market yourself. But where do you start? How do you do it? And what’s involved?

That`s what several new indexers wanted to know when we met at our monthly chat session in December 2020. So we quickly got together in a Zoom session to get answers to our questions and share ideas. We felt that the upcoming holiday break would be the perfect time to work on marketing activities that could make all the difference to our success in the new year.

Whether you’re a new indexer just starting out, or you’ve been in the business for years and want more clients, there`’s something valuable in here for you.

Here’s the replay

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Related questions

How do I find potential clients?