What are the qualities and characteristics of a successful indexer?

In the early 2000s, indexer Martha Osgood posted a series of popular articles in the “Novice Notes” section of her website, Backwordsindexing.com. Here is an extract from one of her articles.

It is said that successful indexers:

  • Have good pattern recognition skills
  • Read carefully and quickly
  • Are good “listeners” who can hear what the author intends to say
  • Have good concentration skills
  • Are self-motivated
  • Have common sense and perseverance
  • Are imaginative enough to identify what other readers will want to find
  • Are general information addicts
  • Enjoy working crossword puzzles (optional)
  • Enjoy thinking of one-word synonyms (not optional)
  • Dislike marketing their skills, but do it anyway
  • Can type quickly and accurately
  • Have good spelling and grammar
  • Are self-motivated and work well alone
  • Are computer-literate, email-literate
  • Are detail-oriented, and can make accurate use of indexing conventions
  • Are confident enough to make decisions and defend them
  • Are respectful of deadlines
  • Are good at networking
  • Have good language synthesis and/or writing skills
  • Are self-motivated and disciplined
  • Read mystery books (optional)
  • Do detailed needlework (optional)
  • Alphabetize things (CDs, books, spices)
  • Are self-motivated and like their own company
  • Have a tendency toward neatness
  • Like to organize things by category (contents of drawers, refrigerators, cupboards, closets, bookcases, spices, life)

In addition, subject expertise is helpful. Indexing coursework with a LOT of feedback is helpful, and Peer Reviews are VERY helpful.

A 2000 survey of ASI members shows that 12% hold doctorates, 50% have earned Masters Degrees, 14% have some postgraduate study, and 20% have a Bachelor’s degree. Only 29% hold library degrees. 90% are freelance, back of the book indexers, and 60% of those work part-time. But if you don’t have a degree, don’t let that limit you. A degree means you have had the time/$ to make yourself noticed to a certain part of the world; the lack thereof does NOT mean you can’t do the work.


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