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

Reminder of Submission Deadline: ISC/SCI Ewart-Daveluy Award for Excellence in Indexing 2024

Submission deadline: Friday, March 15, 2024

Submissions are open! The application has never been easier.

  • It’s all online.
  • You don’t need a hard copy — a PDF of the published book AND/OR the PDF sent to you by the publisher plus your Word/RTF file of the index.
  • The cost is only $30.

The benefits:

  • The winner will receive two tickets to the conference banquet at the next in-person conference.
  • We provide feedback for up to three runners-up.

No restriction to the subject matter or genre — textbooks, cookbooks, guidebooks, memoirs, art books, how-to books, travel books, all books — it’s your index we will be looking at.

Show us how you creatively overcame challenges, resulting in an outstanding, well-structured, easy-to-navigate, clear and comprehensive guide for all of its users.

Give us a challenge. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Maybe you’ll get the prize (which won’t happen if you don’t apply). And if not, you’re likely to get expert confidential feedback. That’s worth a lot.

This year you can submit indexes published in 2022 and 2023. If you are a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada, this is the time to do it. If you are not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, you may submit an index if you were a member of ISC/SCI at the time you wrote the index.

The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2024. Here are the guidelines, criteria, and the submission form.

2023 Diversity in Canadian Publishing Bursary Award: Pascale Hutton and Sade Cooke

The Indexing Society of Canada / Société canadienne d’indexation (ISC/SCI) is pleased to announce two winners this year! Pascale Hutton and Sade Cooke are the 2023 ISC/SCI Diversity in Canadian Publishing Bursary Award recipients.

Pascale Hutton is from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is of Métis (Charette, Lagimodière, and McDonald families) and French-Canadian ancestry. She identifies as ace or asexual. She is in her last semester of the Master of Library and Information Sciences program at the University of Alberta and is currently working as an archive technician at the Archives of Manitoba. Pascale hopes that through indexing more Indigenous and/or queer readers like herself can see themselves reflected on the page. She is grateful for the opportunity and looks forward to beginning her journey in indexing in early 2024.

Sade Cooke (they/them) is a critical information worker based in Kjipuktuk, Mi’kma’ki. They hold a Master of Library & Information Science and a MA in Gender Studies, and have previously worked in public libraries and community archives. Sade is eager to incorporate their passion for anti-oppressive subject analysis into their new career as an indexer.

With this bursary, ISC/SCI aims to help achieve equality of opportunity for aspiring indexers belonging to underrepresented and/or marginalized groups. The bursary covers fees for an approved indexing program, two years of ISC membership with listing, and entry into the Mary Newberry Mentorship program.

Congratulations, Sade and Pascale!

Winner of 2023 Purple Pen Contest for New Indexers

The Institute of Certified Indexes (ICI) is pleased to announce that Elizabeth Bartmess has won the 2023 award in this contest for new indexers.

Elizabeth is a San Francisco Bay Area indexer with a background in the social and information sciences. Her formal indexing training includes American Society for Indexing’s Module A and the UC Berkeley’s extension course. She holds an MS in Information, an MS in Psychology, and a Certificate in Culture and Cognition from the University of Michigan, and a BA in Psychology from Rice University. Her previous work experience includes data management and statistical programming, project management, and writing and editing.

She discovered indexing in 2022 while exploring freelance editing as a potential career.
Elizabeth is a member of American Society for Indexing (ASI) and Indexing Society of Canada / Société canadienne d’indexation (ISC/SCI) and serves as the Program Co-Chair and Co-Webmaster for ASI’s Pacific Northwest Chapter.

Her award-winning index can be found in the book “Immanent Critiques: The Frankfurt School Under Pressure” by Martin Jay, published in 2023 by Verso. This book is a collection of essays applying the Frankfurt School’s tradition of immanent critique as established by the philosophers Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Max Horkheimer. The focus concerns their analyses of anti-Semitism and Zionism, in addition to Marxist themes: the meaning of alienation, the alleged damages of abstraction, and the advocacy of a politics based on a singular notion of the truth. A very difficult book targeted at scholars already familiar with this School.

The judges found that Elizabeth had met this challenge by setting up a solid structure to her index. Through a network of cross-references she linked the various discussions of the main themes. She also produced accurate and thorough work, all commendable for a new indexer.
Elizabeth was commissioned for this job as a subcontractor of Potomac Indexing, LLC. The managing partner of Potomac, Estalita Slivoskey, wrote that there was no guidance from the publisher and author on how to approach the indexing. She said, “Elizabeth should be very proud of this index, and of winning this award, as she did a wonderful job.”
The submissions in the contest are reviewed anonymously by a panel of three judges. Each indexer receives detailed feedback on the index with examples of areas in which to improve. Entrants who compete come from the UK, US, and Canada, and have completed indexing training in the previous five years.

In addition to a cash award of $100 USD, the winner participates in a Zoom session with the judges to get individualized guidance on indexing techniques and business tips.

This year, 2023, is the tenth and final year of ICI conducting the contest. A list of winners for the ten years can be found on the ICI website: www.certifiedindexers.com.