Common Sense in Indexing

Common sense is another principle that aids in creating better indexes.  Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.) defines common sense as “the unreflective opinions of ordinary people”; and “sound and prudent but often unsophisticated judgement.”  Common sense should be balanced with the other principles, accuracy, consistency, comprehensiveness, conciseness, readability, reflexivity, audience-sensitivity, and elegance that I have outlined in previous posts.  Metatopic and structure also aid in creating a quality index.

Term choices and natural language

Indexers are choice architects, as we make choices in every word that goes into an index.  We decide how something obscure might be made more accessible, so we should use natural everyday (common sense) language in our indexes.  We must be aware of jargon and translate it as much as possible, so our indexes are usable across a variety or audiences.  This might entail using a cross-reference or parenthetical qualifier.

Main headings

In order to create the best possible main headings, it is helpful to have a good general grasp of the main subject of the text (or metatopic), using natural language to maintain the connection between the outside world of the user and the inside world of the text.


The following techniques follow common sense.  First, the relationship between the subheading and the main heading must be absolutely clear.  Second, subheadings should, as far as possible, have the most important word first, and sort on that word.  Third, indexers may also apply logic to the sort order of subheadings.

Double-posting acronym-type entries

Acronym-type entries do not always have to be double posted, especially if there are subheadings or if both are sorted one after the other.


Common sense is a key tool for indexers and serves particularly as a balance to reflexivity and as an aid to clarity and readability.  Common sense can carry weight when considering the best construction for main headings or subheadings and whether or not to double-post versus using a cross-reference.  Common sense should be applied to create better, more usable indexes.  For more information about common sense in creating indexes, see the article by Margie Towery “Common Sense: Creating Better Indexes, Part 2.” Heartland Chapter Newsletter of the American Society for Indexing, Fall 2012.

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

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.