Back Words Indexing 

  Back-of-the-Book Indexes
     for Publishers and Authors

      "You're going to love the way your book ends!"



about indexes
my background

authors as indexer
computers asindexer

quotations about indexes/indexing
indexer humor

order of the kohlrabi
wilson awards judge



Martha Osgood
Back Words Indexing

Since 1996

author of the index in
Inside Indexing:
the Decisionmaking Process

by Sherry Smith & Kari Kells






     "I would never buy a book that purports to fall into the category of serious nonfiction if it lacks an index" ... "reviewers of books like myself and those who edit such reviews carry an obligation to scold authors, editors and publishers in print every time they fail to meet their obligations."

     Steve Weinberg
     Baltimore Sun
     January 2005




    Knowledge is of two kinds.
We know a subject ourselves,
or we know where we can find information on it.

~ Dr. Samuel Johnson

What exactly is an index?    

An index concentrates a book into its important names, concepts, and terms, ordered differently than the text, so the reader can retrieve those names and ideas efficiently. The index does not re-tell the book's information—it collects and points to all the locations in the book where those discussions exist. The index is usually found at the back of the book. A good index reflects the text accurately, and anticipates the reader's viewpoint--entries are worded to be useful to readers less familiar with the topic than the author.     

And the purposes of an index are?   

A good index reduces the frustration of information overload, saves time, and reveals relationships among concepts in a book. And as the 1897 Sears, Roebuck, and Company Consumer's Guide pointed out:
               "If you don't find what you are looking for in the index,
look very carefully through the entire catalogue."

A good index also   

   The New Yorker
, the weekly magazine that started as "a hectic book of gossip, cartoons and facetiae," as Louis Menand once wrote, and has evolved into a citadel of narrative nonfiction and investigative reporting, will publish its entire 80-year archives on searchable computer discs...
   The magazine's card catalog, which over time has come to include more than 1.5 million index cards containing citations and cross-references to articles and which forms the backbone of the search function on the discs, was scanned at the magazine's office in Manhattan after discussions with the publication's insurance company found the catalog to be "irreplaceable and beyond value."
               - NYTimes 

    • permits a browser in a bookstore to compare books prior to purchase to verify inclusion of secondary topics not mentioned in the chapter headings
    • identifies information a reader might look for
    • collects the different ways of wording the same concept provides subentries (rather than long strings of unanalyzed page references) to guide researchers directly to a specific aspect of a topicdistinguishes substantial information from passing mention
    • provides terminology that might not exist in the text then points the reader to the terms used in the text
    • facilitates quotation by other authors, by the media, by students, by readers
    • gets your book into libraries: the ALA when voting on best reference books has actually eliminated those without indexes or with poor indexes, and ALA selections affect what libraries will purchase. 
    • groups together references to the same topic so the reader does not have to read the whole index to find what he or she is looking for
    • recognizes that professors choose textbooks based on whether their own work or that of other known experts or researchers in the field is quoted or discussed in the book
    • retrieves information for review by students
    • analyzes concepts to produce headings
    • focuses the gateways to the book's information to a specific audience
    • shows an author's pride in his or her own work, and a regard for other researchers and readers
    • determines whether a university library purchases the book at all
    • reduces the number of calls to a support hotline
    • can give the author a new perspective on the effectiveness of her or his presentation
    • filters information for the reader in order to prevent burnout
    • sells better on Amazon.com (and other sites) because potential buyers can often review the index there
    • creates a process by which one final person reads the book thoroughly and carefully, often catching final copyediting errors just prior to publication.

           "A nonfiction book without an index has no heft. I pay it no attention... When I am deciding on whether to review or have a book reviewed, I check the index to get a good idea of what's covered in the book to help me decide."

      Arthur Salm, Book reviewer and Books Editor
      of the San Diego Union-Tribune
      as a guest on San Diego's NPR call-in show
      December 18, 2003