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Author Guidelines

A GOOD INDEX PROVIDES THE USER OF A BOOK with a directory to its contents. A poorly constructed or insufficient index can exasperate the user by concealing what the book includes. By providing insight into the purpose and content of the text, a well-prepared index becomes a positive asset, making the book easy to use and fostering its adoption.


Although the author is technically responsible for the integrity of the whole text, index included, most authors do not have the specialized skills required to prepare an appropriate index. Therefore, we normally hire a professional indexer to prepare the index for each text. This expense is taken from author royalties. It is helpful when the author, who created the book and knows its emphases and refinements, can provide guidelines for the inclusion of particular concepts and features to be indexed.

If you have had indexing experience and have the time required to prepare the index, you can talk with the sponsor about indexing your own book. The rub comes in the timing. We must have the index manuscript in our hands no later than two weeks after the last batch of page proof arrives. Usually, authors are reviewing page proof at the time when the index must be prepared, and it is not feasible to accomplish both tasks at once. But if you want to prepare your own index, the following guidelines should help. They are also useful for reviewing an index.

What to Index


Decide on one principle of entry selection, and stick to it. Don't index every mention of an item, but do include all pertinent discussions of it, and indicate any shifts in focus. The index, while solid, must be selective and logical.

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Entry levels and subordination

Decide what concepts or topics will become main entries. Then subordinate differentiated aspects of each entry as subentries that are specific and clear and bear close logical and grammatical relationships to the main head.

One subentry level is sufficient. To indulge in more invites hair splitting and duplication, as well as a typographic mess of indentions within an already narrow type column. If more than one subordinate level of entry seems inescapable, the main entry is probably too general. Divide the category; or use cross-references; or eliminate some details; or group details differently.

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Other materials to include and exclude

Beyond the items discussed in the text proper, it is sometimes appropriate to include whole maps, tables, and illustrations under their appropriate subjects, identified as "(table)" or "(fig.)" following the page number. Material in boxes, special features, or marginal notes may also need to be included in the index, and appropriate instructions should be given to the indexer.

Include explanatory footnote material that does not appear in the body of the text only if it continues or amplifies the topic. The style of the designation is "176n"--"176" is the page number, and "n" with no period indicates that the material appears in a note.

End-of-chapter apparatus, such as exercises, problems, and questions, should not be indexed unless content is treated substantively there. Similarly, bibliographical entries, footnote citations, and other documentary references do not appear. But if references to research are a basic feature of the text, they can be indexed. In this event, you might want separate name and subject indexes.

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Key words

How is the reader likely to use the index? What topics will the reader expect to find? Under what key words or phrases will the reader look? Avoid very broad subjects. "Restrictions, labor," would be a poor choice. "Restrictions" is too broad a category as well as an unlikely one. A curious reader is probably thinking "labor, restrictions on."

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How to Index

Getting started

When working from proof, underline key words and phrases, indicating with some sort of code whether the item is a main entry or a subentry. If the latter, make a marginal note of the category it will fall under.

In wording entries, it is not necessary to stick to the exact words used in the text. Make any change of phrasing or diction that will more appropriately fit index style while remaining consistent with usage in the book. Remember that an index should be concise, not discursive.

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Index cards or software?

The original method of preparing an index by writing or typing each entry at each occurrence on a separate 3-by-5-inch card, one entry to a card, and including the main entry at the head of a subentry card is still acceptable though seldom used. Most indexers now use special indexing software. The documentation for the individual software program will explain its use.

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Form of entry

Make sure the most significant or telling word comes first in each main entry and subentry. A reader who wants to make a soufflé would not look under the letter "H" for "How to make soufflés." When determining the best wording for each entry, try to think as a reader would.

Soufflés, basic recipes for
    with cheese
    cooking utensils and

Omit prepositions when possible. In the entry above, "for" could be omitted. The simplest wording is probably the best.

A solitary adjective should never be a main entry. Not


but, for example,

Sexual deviations
Sexual experiences

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Proper names

When proper names are listed in the general index or in a separate name index, the last name should come first, followed by first name or initials, even though the text reference may be to a last name only.

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Page numbers

Avoid strings of six or more unmodified page numbers, such as "Freud, Sigmund, 12, 13, 17, 21, 23, 26." The creation of subentries will help the index user to find specific information without skim-reading multiple pages.

For spans of pages, give the numbers in full: 78–79, not 78–9; 817–826, not 817–26.

Always include terminal page numbers, even if a subject is discussed sporadically over three or more pages; that is, do not use ff. or et seq.

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Use "see . . ." when a topic is indexed under another term: "adolescence, see youth." But when an entry has only one or a few page references, do not send the reader to a separate entry; list the page references for the reader's convenience.

"See also . . ." refers the reader to entries that supply additional information, not duplicate information. For example,

cultural diversity, 17–22, 29, 38–40, 62
    gender identity and, 436–437
    See also ethnicity

Double-check to make certain that every cross-reference actually directs the reader to an identically worded main entry or subentry.

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Alphabetical Order

Alphabetical listing provides the best key to conceptual and analytical material. In the sciences especially, but also in technical or theoretical material from any discipline, index entries and subentries should be alphabetized.

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In alphabetizing, we recommend the letter-by-letter or "all-through" method of the dictionary. (The other method is the word-by-word system, which we do not use.) To alphabetize letter by letter, treat the entire entry as a unit up to the first punctuation mark, ignoring spaces and hyphens, no matter how many words are involved. Thus:

tax, income
tax collection
tax on tax
tax remission

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Alphabetize subentries by their first significant word. Ignore initial prepositions and conjunctions when alphabetizing subentries.

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Proper names and nouns

Names of persons precede names of places with identical spelling. Any proper noun precedes a common noun with identical spelling. Initials in proper names are alphabetized as if they were spelled out.

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Alphabetize numbers as if they were spelled out except where chronology or sequence establishes a more appropriate pattern for listing.

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Many common abbreviations, especially those in place names, are alphabetized as if they were spelled out.

Other abbreviations--such as names of organizations or chemical compounds--may be more familiar as abbreviations than as words. In these cases, list the abbreviation alphabetically by letter. If necessary, enter the spelled-out form, giving it a cross-reference to the abbreviation.

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Hyphenated entries

Treat words with hyphenated prefixes as whole words when alphabetizing. Hyphenated number or symbol prefixes, however, are disregarded, and the entry is alphabetized according to the first letter of the base term. For example, "2-methylbutane" would be alphabetized under the letter "M."

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Chronological Order

A chronological arrangement of subentries--that is, listing them by ascending pages, in their order of appearance--is useful for books that are strongly historical in scope and structure.When an index is arranged in chronological order, the main entries are listed alphabetically, and follow the rules outlined previously. Only the subentries are listed in order of page number. Thus:

Holding companies
    investigation of, 303–304
    Wheeler-Rayburn bill to regulate, 306–307, 312, 315–316
    defended, 308–311

    campaign against Upton Sinclair, 118–119
    elements friendly to New Deal, 411

Indexes in this format tend to be less formal than completely alphabetized indexes, and the subentries are usually run in, in paragraph style, when the manuscript is typeset.

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Index Submittal

The index should be typed double-spaced on 8.5-by-11-inch paper in indented list style using a word processor or indexing software. Subentries should be indented at least three spaces from the left margin. Follow the spacing system consistently on every page of index manuscript.

We need to receive a hard copy of the index plus a disk with labeled files within 14 days after the last batch of text pages is available. Without the index, we cannot establish the final pagination of the book, and without the final pagination we cannot proceed with manufacturing. A late index brings production to a halt and is likely to delay the arrival of bound books.

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Useful References

Examine good indexes from books similar to yours. In addition, The Chicago Manual of Style has an excellent chapter on the construction and alphabetizing of indexes.

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