Archive for May, 2014

Comprehensiveness in a Quality Scholarly Index

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

A quality scholarly index must be accurate, consistent, comprehensive, concise, readable, reflexive, audience-sensitive, and elegant.  In previous blog postings, I have examined accuracy and consistency in quality scholarly indexes.  In this blog posting I will explore comprehensiveness as a factor in quality scholarly indexes.

Comprehensiveness, defined

Webster’s defines “comprehensive” as (1) “covering completely or broadly; inclusive” (as in a comprehensive study), and (2) “having or exhibiting wide mental grasp” (such as comprehensive knowledge).  The National Information Standards Organization’s Guidelines for Indexes and Related Information Retrieval Devices list the functional characteristics of an index, one of which is that an index must “indicate all important topics or features … in accordance with the level of exhaustivity for the index.”

Comprehensiveness is related to exhaustivity, specificity, and depth of indexing.  “Exhaustivity,” writes Hans Wellisch in Indexing from A to Z,  “refers to the extent to which concepts and topics are made retrievable by means of index terms.”  An indexer should check to see that all the topics, concepts, people, and events in the index are findable.

Specificity refers to “the extent to which a concept or topic … is identified by a precise term.”  The indexer should also check to see that all the topics, concepts, people, and events in the index are findable by precise terminology.  Wellisch adds that depth of indexing is the “product” of exhaustivity and specificity.

Comprehensiveness is one of the characteristics of a quality index.  The index must represent all of the material within a text, including front and back matter when appropriate.

Comments on comprehensiveness

If the author felt that something was important enough to include, then an index must also include it.  Authorial digressions should be included for an index to be comprehensive.  Moreover, a user may remember some piece of information related to the digression and search under the entry for that digression.

Related to comprehensiveness is the consideration of the ways a user might “name” and search for something.  Comprehensive indexing should consider diverse audiences who might use the index.  This entails, for example, creating multiple entry points for any given information.

For more discussion on comprehensiveness in quality indexes, see Margie Towery’s article “Comprehensiveness and Conciseness: Creating Better Indexes, Parts 4 and 5.” Heartland Chapter of the American Society for Indexing Newsletter, Fall 2013,

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website,