Archive for April, 2014

Consistency in a Quality Scholarly Index

Saturday, April 5th, 2014


The eight qualities of a scholarly index are that it must be accurate, consistent, comprehensive, concise, readable, reflexive, audience-sensitive, and elegant.  I discussed the first factor, accuracy, in the last blog posting.  Consistency, the second factor comprising a quality scholarly index, is the focus of this blog posting.

“Qualifiers,” the parenthetical additions that clarify a main entry, must be used consistently throughout an index.  Qualifiers provide helpful information to the reader, without cluttering up the index with unnecessary details.

Smith, Jane (Joe’s mother)

Smith, Jane (Joe’s sister)

Indexers can incorporate consistent inconsistency, for example, in a text that includes many place-names.  A book about California might have asides about little-known places in other states.  Qualifiers could be included for the non-California place-names.


Deming (N.M.)

San Diego

When possible, main entries and subentries should be consistent in terminology.  For joint main entries, parallel construction may be used:

immigrants and immigration

suffragists and suffrage (not the reverse)

Subentries should follow parallel construction.  Consider the following:

Smith, Jane: career of; education of; sexuality of

Doe, Joseph: education of; occupation of; sexuality of

Are Smith’s career and Doe’s occupation similarly considered?  If so, then the same subentries should appear under each.  This makes it easier for the reader to follow the entries in the index.  Consistency is a factor that indexers must balance in aiming for quality.

The number of subentries and page locators is another point in which consistency is important.  The indexer must decide on the number of page locators allowed to stand without subentries, depending on the structure and length of the index.  This could be 5, 6 or maybe even 8.  Another issue of consistency is balanced treatment when pulling entries from the text.  For example, a book on science education could have entries for “curriculum,” “creationism,” and “evolutionism.”

Finally, “connectors” and prepositions should be used consistently.  Words such as “and,” “of,” “versus,” and “as” should be used consistently in constructing subentries.

railroads: fruit production and; lumber industry and

fruit production; railroads and (not and railroads)

Other factors that contribute to a quality scholarly index will be explored in future blog postings.  For more information on consistency in a quality scholarly index, see Margie Towery’s article “The Quality of a Scholarly Index: A Contribution to the Discourse” in Indexing Specialties: Scholarly Books, Information Today, Inc., Medford, N.J.: 2005, pp.81-94.

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