Manuscript, Writing

Indexing Your Manuscript: A Thorough Guide

Indexing Your Manuscript

Creating an index for your nonfiction manuscript or book is an important part of the publication process. An index lets readers easily find information on specific topics or terms throughout your work. This guide will cover everything you need to know to properly index your manuscript so readers can easily navigate and understand your content.

Understanding How Indexes Work

Before diving in, it’s important to understand an index’s basic structure and purpose. An index alphabetically lists topics, names, terms, or other key elements from your manuscript. Page numbers are referenced for each entry where that element appears in the text. The goal is to help readers quickly locate information on any subject related to your work.

Some key things to know about how indexes function:

  • Entries should match what is said in the text, not your intentions or interpretations.
  • Indexes are ordered alphabetically by word, not number. So, “Chapter 2” would be filed under C, not 2.
  • Subentries are indented underneath main entries to further categorize elements.
  • Page ranges (e.g., 45-47) show where a continuing discussion spans multiple pages.
  • Cross-references point the reader from a related entry to the main indexed term (e.g., see Photography).
  • With the basics understood, let’s dive into how to comprehensively index your manuscript.

Choosing Terms to Index

The first step is deciding what terms, topics, names, and other elements you want to include in your index. You’ll want to index:

  • Major subjects and topics discussed throughout the text
  • Important definitions or concepts explained
  • Names of significant people, places, organizations, etc.
  • Dates, events, or other key details
  • Any terms that may bring readers to your work

It’s best to cast a wide net initially and index liberally. You can always trim entries later if needed. Read your manuscript with an indexing mindset, noting things that warrant inclusion.

Creating the Index Structure

Once you have a list of terms to index, it’s time to build the structure. The process is:

  • Type out all your terms in alphabetical order. This is your master list.
  • Assign page numbers to each entry based on where that term first appears in the text.
  • Group related terms together under main entries using indention (subentries).
  • Add any necessary cross-references or page ranges.

At this stage, focus on accurately capturing all content, order, and structure – formatting comes later. Work sequentially through your manuscript to fully link terms to their source pages.

Indexing Process Tips

Indexing Process Tips

Here are some tips for smoothly indexing your manuscript:

  • Maintain your index as a separate document for easy editing.
  • Index chapters or sections one at a time to stay organized.
  • Leave extra space between entries for additions.
  • Use clear indentation to show subentry relationships.
  • Double-check entries against the text for accuracy.
  • Index authors by last name for consistency.
  • Note alternative spellings or hyphenated/compound words.
  • Watch for relevant terms used only once that warrant indexing.
  • Index numbers, dates, and currencies consistently.
  • Seek outsider feedback once complete for missed terms.

Following best practices like these will result in a comprehensive, easy-to-use index.

Final Touches and Formatting

Final Touches and Formatting

The final steps are putting on the finishing touches:

  • Review the entire index for errors, omissions, or unclear relationships.
  • Choose an index layout style (e.g., run-in, indent 2). Be consistent.
  • Apply proper typesetting, such as small caps for entries and page numbers.
  • Add a title like “Index” centered and bold at the top of the page.
  • Include any necessary collation marks for cross-references.
  • Provide complete instructions for professional indexers if needed.
  • Save your index as a separate file for easy inclusion in final book production.

With thoughtful indexing, a well-structured index will greatly enhance readers’ experience by allowing them to readily find key information throughout your work. Follow these guidelines to thoroughly index your manuscript.

Additional Indexing Considerations

Beyond the core indexing process, here are some other elements to consider:

  • Use Descriptive Entries: Craft entries that describe what is covered to aid searching rather than just listing terms. For example, “Photography equipment, 145-150” is better than just “Photography.”
  • Watch for Ambiguous Terms: Terms with multiple meanings need qualifiers to clarify them. Index “Java (programming language)” and “Java (island)” separately.
  • Capitalization Matters: Different capitalizations indicate distinct entries. Index “Obama, Barack” and “Obama, Michelle” as unique.
  • Numbers Require Judgment: Determine if numerals, words, or ranges are clearest. Index “Chapter 5” or “five” based on usage.
  • Consider illustrations, too: Include images, charts, and other visual elements that are not strictly text-based.
  • Review Your Voice: Ensure the index style matches the tone/register of your written work. Keep it clear, not cutesy.
  • Leave Room for Sequels: Build space for expanding the index if you write additional books.

Deal with Names Consistently

Develop a system for alphabetizing and referencing people, places, organizations, etc., in your index. Common approaches include:

  • Index individuals by last name (Smith, John).
  • The index is placed by major words (New York City).
  • Index organizations without “The” (Red Cross, not The Red Cross).
  • Distinguish names with suffixes like Jr. and III with commas (Smith, John, Jr.).

Watch for Compound Terms

Pay attention to natural multi-word sequences that should be kept together alphabetically. Some examples:

  • United States, not the United States separately.
  • Social media, not social media.
  • White House, not white House.
  • Include Dates Within Entries

Always surround years with commas in an entry for clarity. For example:

  • Great Depression, 1928-1939
  • Industrial Revolution, 1750, 1800-1850
  • Be Inclusive of Specialized Topics

Index technical areas thoroughly to aid specialists. For example:

  • Quantum physics, 105-120
  • Uncertainty principle, 112
  • Wave-particle duality, 115

Check Copyright Permissions

If you include substantial passages from other published works, be sure your index provides proper permissions and credit lines.

Use Professional Help When Needed

Consider hiring an experienced indexing professional for large nonfiction works to ensure thoroughness and consistency. Provide clear guidelines.

Proofread Thoroughly

Don’t forget to proofread your entire index multiple times before publication. Fresh eyes are most likely to catch errors.

Cross-check with the Text

Randomly spot-check index entries against the actual text to ensure the accuracy of page numbers and context.

Consider the Printed Layout

Test how entries will look formatted in the expected publish size/layout for any adjustments.

Provide a Sample Page

Include a sample correctly formatted index page for reference when working with others like designers or printers.

Solicit Feedback

Ask others unfamiliar with your work to search the index for specific topics to catch any usability issues.

Allow Time for Iteration

Indexing is an iterative process that may require several passes. Leave time for refinement before finalizing.

Have Indexed Copies Handy

Keep printed indexed copies of rough drafts available while revising to spot needed changes.

Congratulations on Completing a Thorough Index!

Taking the time to learn indexing best practices and carefully applying them will pay dividends by helping readers learn from your work. With a comprehensive yet intuitive index, you maximize the value delivered to those you seek to inform and educate. Consider your index a gift to readers that amplifies your important message and expertise.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do I need to index for a short ebook or book under 100 pages?

Even shorter works can benefit from basic indexing. Indexing key topics and terms becomes more important the more specialized or information-dense the subject matter. An index helps readers navigate topics more quickly.

2. How long should it take me to index my 200-page manuscript?

The time it takes can vary significantly depending on the complexity of the content and your indexing experience. As a rough guideline, budget around 2-4 hours to do your first pass indexing a typical 200-page manuscript. Be prepared to do additional revisions in another 1-3 hours.

3. Can I index it as I write, or should I wait until the full draft is complete?

You can do preliminary indexing as you write, but it’s typically most effective to do the full indexing pass after completing your full draft. That allows you to index the work in its entirety without systematic disruption.

4. Should I index the names of fictional characters?

Indexing character names can be helpful for readers in fiction works like novels. However, if readers look ahead, the plot may be disrupted. Consider including only major characters or leave it to your publisher’s discretion.

5. What if I can't fit all my index entries on one page - can I continue on another?

Yes, an index can span multiple pages. Leave the first page filled and continue entries alphabetically on subsequent pages. Don’t break entries between pages though – carry full entries to subsequent pages if needed.

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