Archive for July, 2014

Readability in a Quality Scholarly Index

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

A quality scholarly index must be accurate, consistent, comprehensive, concise, readable, reflexive, audience-sensitive and elegant.  In the last few blog postings, I have discussed accuracy, consistency, comprehensiveness, and conciseness.  In this blog posting, I will focus on readability as a factor in a quality scholarly index.

What is readability?

Webster’s defines “readable” as “able to be read easily; legible; interesting to read.”  Synonyms for “readable” in a thesaurus include intelligible, interesting, legible, and meaningful.

Hallmarks of a readable index

A key function of an index is to recreate a text using clear, concise, alphabetical pieces of information that direct the reader back into that text.  Readability, related in part to the ease of navigating an index (usability), is developed in a number of key ways:

  1. The metatopic, the main topic of the book, and structure must be clear and navigable.  A visible metatopic structure aids to support or redirect reader expectations, which may be based on a review of the table of contents and book description or a quick flip through the text.  Many readers expect to find an entry for the main subject.  Indexers can use that to gather general bits of information as well as to send the reader out to the most important headings in the index.  A table of contents approach may be useful for some texts (i.e., index main entries reflect the wording of the table of contents or use cross-references to get readers from that wording to more appropriate main headings).
  2. Parallel structure within the index, where appropriate, aids the reader’s movement within the index and thus from the index to the text.
  3. Consistency in topic treatment is important, also (e.g., in terms of both depth and equality of treatment, as well as wording for similar main headings).
  4. Format issues require different handling for indented versus run-in style indexes.  For example, in a run-in style index, long entries should be broken down into more readable chunks.
  5. The meaning of every index entry must be instantly obvious.  Readers should not have to spend time trying to figure out what a main or subheading means.  This is why function words are necessary in many cases, despite the trend to delete them.
  6. The first word should be the most important in the subheading.
  7. An index must translate jargon in some way, for those readers less familiar with the subject matter of a particular book.

Future blog postings will discuss other factors of a quality scholarly index.  For more information about readability in a quality scholarly index, consult the article by Margie Towery, “Readability: Creating Better Indexes, Part 1.”  Heartland Chapter of the American Society for Indexing Newsletter, Spring 2012

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