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Indexing Your Own Book

This is usually a very bad idea. Here are a few things to consider before deciding to save money by indexing your own book or asking an untrained person (a partner, junior colleague, clerical or research assistant, say) to prepare an 'index'.

First, a few authors do have the skills needed to index well, but no more than are adept at illustrating their own works, or designing a dust jacket, say. Most don't. Also the author is seldom in the ideal state of mind towards the end of writing a book to take on a completely new and demanding task.

Second, authors tend to see their subjects in terms of their own personal vocabularies; an indexer will approach the work from a reader's viewpoint and tend to provide those - sometimes quite different - entry terms that the reader may think of, regardless of whether they're used in any relevant passage. An untrained assistant can only use your vocabulary; they've nothing else to work with.

An author writing about web site security might use his or her own term, 'cryptography' in the index. (S)he's less likely though to cross-refer from the more common term 'encryption' (even if (s)he uses that elsewhere) or to link from 'securing web sites' which might also cover access security. Using an indexer avoids forcing your readers to think exactly like you. And, for multi-authored works, anything other than using a professional indexer is a recipe for chaos and a near guarantee of reader dissatisfaction.

It's really no more sensible to require authors to index than to proofread their own work. In both cases, a fresh pair of eyes will always pay dividends.

Society of Indexers, Woodbourn Business Centre, 10 Jessell Street, Sheffield S9 3HY
The Society of Indexers is a company limited by guarantee and incorporated in England and Wales.
Registration number 6303822.
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