Archive for August, 2014

Reflexivity in a Quality Scholarly Index

Thursday, August 7th, 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, conciseness, and readability.  In this blog posting, I will focus on reflexivity as a factor in a quality scholarly index.

What is reflexivity?

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines reflexive as “directed or turned back on itself; …marked by, or capable of reflection; …of, relating to, characterized by, or being in a relation that exists between an entity and itself,” and so on.  Thus, an index exists in relation to the text from which it is drawn.  An index should be reflexive of the text.

There are many ways in which an index is reflexive, which are highlighted in the following examples.  Concepts in the text must be represented in the index in the same proportion as they are in the text; that is, if there is a small amount of information about A and a lot of information about B, then that should be true in the index as well.  If there is a key point made about several different concepts, then that key point should be captured in a similar manner for each.  If everything in a text comes from an overarching idea and subsequently breaks it down, then that should be reflected in the index structure by capturing that overarching idea and perhaps using cross-references to the main headings.  Reflexivity also incorporates the author’s terminology in the index.

What reflexivity is not

An index is not simply a repetition or a regurgitation of the text.  Rather, it is a carefully analyzed presentation of the information in a text.  Nor is it a concordance that traces every use of the terms in the text, although a concordance is inherently reflexive of the text.

A reflexive index need not repeat the author’s biases.  For example, in a book where the author used racist language, the indexer should find a way to reflect but not repeat that language in the index.

Future blog postings will focus on other factors of a quality scholarly index.  For more information on reflexivity in a quality scholarly index, see the article by Margie Towery, “Reflexivity: Creating Better Indexes, Part 3.” Heartland Chapter of the American Society For Indexing Newsletter, Spring 2013

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