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How frustrating! You picked up that book expecting to be able to read about the topic you wanted right away—but you can't, because it has no index.
Your reaction may be a silent Didn't this author think anyone would care? or maybe even How unprofessional. What probably happened is that the author didn't know how to compile one. Indexing isn't an automated process—it's a manual task that takes a great deal of patience and acquired skill, not to mention time. It's really a job for a professional.
The excerpt at right is from one of mine, in a book about misericords, a type of folding seat in medieval cathedrals. I compiled this index by reading a proof of the book a sentence at a time, including the notes ("n"), and jotting down what I found. The names were easy. However, indexing concepts and themes meant tracing them across spans of many pages. Then I had to break them down into smaller topics for readers who were looking for something specific—say, misericords decorated with carvings of misericord-carvers at work.
The book is heavily illustrated, so I added those page numbers in italics. (St. Mary of Egypt, for example, is written about on pages 11 through 13 and there are pictures of her on pages 11 and 12.) Then I had to think about what else a reader looking up a term might be interested in and add cross-references. A manticore is a mythical creature made up of parts of different animals or monsters. Someone interested in those, I thought, might also want to find out about other mashups, such as blemmyes (giant human heads with legs). Creating this index was a time-consuming process, but the author and I both know that her future readers will find it helpful.
If your nonfiction book or instruction guide or company history needs the professional touch that only an index can provide, please contact me for a free cost estimate.
Katherine Harper, Ph.D.