Indexer's Style Guide

Cynthia Berman's Tipsheet from the November 18, 2003 forum:
Managing a Multi-Volume Indexing Project

	     Indexer's Style Guide: Some Things to Think About
If you are the manager of an indexing project, you can make life easier for everyone involved by taking a little
time to ask yourself a basic series of questions about the indexing process in your institution. Then, when
you begin working with freelance indexers, you can easily set expectations. If you are a freelance indexer,
you should also think about the same set of questions and have ready solutions for the manager who has not
yet formalized expectations into a style sheet.    


Ask the manager about the administrative issues:

       Find out to whom you address your invoice and get all the contact information, including the contact's preferred method of communicating (email, phone, over lunch).

       Can you email the invoice or do they need it to come surface mail?

       Do you need to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)?

       Get all the information you can about the deliverable (see next entry).

       Identify a contact for formatting and content issues.

       Make sure you have a copy of the signed contract and exhibit (for repeat work under the same contract).

Identify the final deliverable

Understand exactly what the deliverable is:

       What is the final deliverable (FrameMaker source files, camera-ready copy, output from Cindex or Macrex, a Word file)?

       When is it due?

       How should it be delivered (FedEx, email attachment, CD-ROM or disk, uploaded to an ftp site)?


       If you are doing technical manuals for a software company, the final deliverable will probably be indexed source files, delivered by email, ftp, or on a CD-ROM or disk. Verify how they want the files delivered. What happens after they send the files? Will it be edited and if so, who will make resulting updates?

       If you are indexing for a publishing house, the deliverable may be hardcopy, a Quark file, an RTF file, a Word file, or something else. Find out if you are delivering camera ready copy or if your draft will be typeset. Will the index be copyedited or proofed after it is delivered? Will you have final approval of the index or is it completely out of your hands when it is delivered?


Style sheet

Ask the manager if a style sheet exists:

       If one is available, read it carefully and make sure that you can comply with it. For example, a software house may require special fonts or have PC vs. Mac environment considerations.

You may still need to ask many of the questions suggested here even if there is a style sheet.

       If one isn't available, ask the manager about:

       The deliverable, what it is and when it is due.

       The audience of the book and index.

       The indexing environment.

       The format of the index, including any house rules you need to know about, such as "We always set illustrations in bold." or "You must embed index entries in the heading."

       Who is your contact when you find inconsistencies or have questions?

Record the answers and review them together in a follow-up email or memo. Get sign-off before you begin.


Identify the index's primary audience

Indexes have audiences, too:

       Is the primary audience member someone looking for information about a topic?

       Is the primary audience member someone who wants to see if he or she is mentioned in the index?

       How will the index be used? Is the index for a printed book, PDF file, knowledge base, corporate intranet, online help system, or something else?

Identify the indexing environment

What is the indexing environment?

       Identify the final delivery mode:

       If you are doing technical manuals for a software company, chances are you'll be doing an embedded index in FrameMaker or Word, which may then be converted to HTML and published on the web. Make sure you know if you are indexing a book or a series of topics that may be reused elsewhere.

       If you are indexing for a publishing house, most likely, you'll use a standalone indexing package such as Macrex, Cindex, or Sky Index. There are numerous other considerations for publishing houses such as the number of pages allocated to the index. Please see Indexing Books by Nancy Mulvany (University of Chicago Press, 1994) for more information.

       If the content is part of a multiple volume or multiple author set, has a controlled vocabulary been defined? Do you need to collaborate with other indexers?


Identify the physical characteristics of the index

Ask the manager about the following physical characteristics of the index:

       Total number of pages allocated for the index?

       Number of columns per page?

       Number of levels for an entry; such as two-level maximum or three-level maximum?

       Size of font for index?

       Word-by-word or letter-by-letter sorting method?

       Placement of See and See also references?

       Are bold and italics used?

       Are page ranges used? If so, how should they be formatted (elided or not elided, i.e., 3.45-50 or 3.45-3.50, respectively).

       How are page numbers formatted? Many technical manuals use chapter-dot (or dash)-page number. Some books in PDF number straight through counting the cover as page 1.

       Capitalization and punctuation; for example, how is See also capitalized (see also or See Also or See also) and are subentries lowercase unless they are proper nouns?

       Should entries be singular or plural?

       If you are delivering camera-ready copy, ask for templates so that your pages are formatted correctly.

Errors in the content

When you discover errors in the content of the text (which you will!), who makes the call about what's right? This is especially important when there are multiple contributors because terminology will undoubtedly be used inconsistently.

Also find out if the index will be copyedited or proofread before publication.

Embedded index considerations (especially for software content)

Embedded indexes pose extra questions:

       What is the delivery method (web, PDF file, hardcopy)?

       Does the material contain conditional text?

       Do the markers need to be placed in a specific location, such as the nearest heading?

       Does the existing template produce the index in the required format or do you need to tweak it?

       If you are working in FrameMaker:

       Will you need to work with the Reference Pages, for example do you need to automatically generate page ranges?

       Will you be working with conditional text? If so, be sure to find out how many conditions will need separating at the end of the project; i.e., how many documents will be produced from the single-sourced original content. The answer has implications for your time estimate!

       Is it okay to use IXgen?


Other things you might want to think about:

Acronyms. See Fred Brown's article in Keywords (Vol.11/No. 2 April-June 2003). If there isn't a standard, follow Fred's advice.

       Illustrations, photos, and other graphics. Some places have standard ways to handle them, other places do not. What role do they play in the document?

       Numbers, symbols, and formulas. How will you handle them in the index?

       Words in foreign languages. Do these present indexing challenges?


Luckily, support is at your fingertips from the community of indexers and indexing scholars

       Index-L. Ask questions, get answers, and spark lively conversations with indexers around the world. Where else can you ask a question in the middle of the night and get a response?

       ASI. Go to meetings and get involved.

There are some classic books on indexing, including:

       Indexing Books, Nancy C. Mulvaney, 1994, University of Chicago Press.

       Indexing from A to Z, Hans H. Wellisch, 1995, H. W. Wilson

       Chicago Manual of Style, University of Chicago Press

       The Art of Indexing, Larry S. Bonura, 1994, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  June 2003
   2004, Cynthia Berman.



home | find the right editor | membership | about us
what do editors do? | next forum | forum index
editing resources | contact us | search

© 1997–2017 Bay Area Editors' Forum. All rights reserved.