Archive for November, 2010

Guidelines for Editing Indexes

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

When the indexer finishes compiling the last line of an index, it is only the first draft, and like any piece of writing, it requires editing.  Substantive editing tasks, rewriting or reorganization of material, should be undertaken by the indexer alone.  The indexer should produce an index manuscript that is in need of few copyediting or proofreading changes.

Nancy C. Mulvany gives an excellent discussion of editing indexes in Chapter Nine, “Editing the Index,” of Indexing Books, Second Edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, pp.219-241.  She walks the indexer though the substantive editing tasks that he or she must undertake and gives guidelines to follow.

  • Main headings.  Evaluate one-by-one.  Are they clear and concise?  Do they make sense?  Is the wording evident so that a reader may look them up?
  • Long strings of undifferentiated reference locators at the main heading level should be broken down into subheadings.  More than 5 or 6 reference locators should be differentiated by the addition of subheadings.
  • Subheadings.  Evaluate for clarity and conciseness.  Do they make sense?  Is the wording evident?  Are they necessary?
  • A single subheading under a main entry and the group of subheadings that all have the same page number should be condensed.  Subheadings that all have the same page number should be eliminated or converted to main entries.
  • Cross-references and double-postings.  Each cross-reference in an index must be verified and must be direct.  All circular cross-references must be eliminated.  Cross-references that send readers elsewhere in the index only to pick up one or two references can often be changed to double-postings, where the same information is entered in two places.

Copyediting and proofreading tasks for the indexer include alphabetizing, spelling, parallel construction, punctuation, and capitalization.  For more information on editing indexes, see Mulvany’s book, Indexing Books.  For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website,