Common Sense in Indexing

July 15th, 2015

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.

Subheadings

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.

Reflections

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.  http://www.heartlandindexers.org/common-sense.html

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com

Newsletter Article Feature

June 10th, 2015

Meet a Fellow Indexer: Lisa Ryan

The author of this blog, Lisa Ryan, was featured in the Spring 2015 Heartland Chapter Newsletter of the American Society for Indexing (ASI).  The link to the article is below.  “When Lisa isn’t indexing and abstracting books, she’s writing them,” the article says.  “I have written two young adult novels and three screenplays, and I am working to get these published or produced.”  The article gives her background as a journalist before changing careers to library science.  Her biggest influence, she says, was her mother, who was a middle school librarian before retiring.

She earned her Master of Science in Library Science Degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She worked as an Indexer/Abstracter for the National Association of Home Builders, then as an Indexer for the U.S. Department of Transportation, both in Washington, D.C.  She founded and developed Stellar Searches LLC in 2007, focusing on research and online searches and then expanded into indexing and abstracting.  She joined ASI shortly thereafter.

Lisa focuses on back-of-the-book, periodical, newspaper, and database indexing and her specialties include science and technology, social science, education, and scholarly works, but she is open to indexing and abstracting a variety of topics.

Read more about Lisa Ryan in the article by Roseann Biederman, “Meet a Fellow Indexer: Lisa Ryan.” Heartland Chapter Newsletter of the American Society for Indexing. Spring 2015. http://www.heartlandindexers.org/meet-lisa-ryan.html

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com

 

Classification in Indexes

May 3rd, 2015

While one purpose of an index is to bring information together, the indexer must take care not to become too obsessed with gathering every bit of related information into larger chunks, a practice known as classification.  For example, in a classified index subentries for cattle would be listed under bulls and cows.  Instead of classifying subheadings, an indexer could make main headings for each of the subheadings.  A See reference could be included from cattle to bulls and cows.

Classified entries work well for the reader as long as the subject being subdivided is not too general and as long as the entry does not continue for column after column.  Readers appreciate having all relevant information gathered in one place.  Readers may find it is just as easy to scan a list of classified subheadings as it is to scan a long list of unclassified subheadings.  It is preferable to make classified entries rather than leaving readers guessing whether they have found all the relevant information that might otherwise be scattered throughout the index.

For more information about classification in indexes, see Linda K. Fetters’ Handbook of Indexing Techniques, Fifth Edition. Information Today, Inc.  Medford, New Jersey, 2013, pp.30-32.

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com

Approaches to Indexing the Metatopic

April 15th, 2015

As discussed in the last blog posting, the metatopic will drive the structural development of the index.  The problem with the metatopic is the temptation to over-index the entire document under a single overarching topic or to ignore the direct indexing of the metatopic altogether.  There are two approaches to indexing the metatopic: the traditional approach and the table of contents approach.

In the traditional approach, subheadings that cannot stand-alone in the index are included under the metatopic heading, with cross-references to the most important main headings in the book.  This saves a significant amount of space in the index and adds elegance to the index structure.

The second approach, the table of contents approach, mirrors the structure of the book.  In terms of structure, the index must reflect the text and yet parse the information into a useful, alphabetical format.  A text may be relatively straightforward in organization, for example, tackling one aspect of the metatopic in each chapter with a subheading under the metatopic heading.

For more information on the metatopic and index structure, see the article by Margie Towery, “Metatopic and Structure: Creating Better Indexes, Part 7.” Heartland Chapter of the American Society for Indexing Newsletter, Fall 2014, http://www.heartlandindexers.org/metatopic.html

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com

 

Metatopic and Index Structure

March 14th, 2015

The metatopic is more than just a characteristic, it is the overarching presence in a book index.  According to Webster’s, meta- means more comprehensive than the original term.  Often used with a discipline, such as linguistics or mathematics, it highlights a discussion in which the discipline itself is the object of critical examination.  The term metadata describes “data about data.”   Do Mi Stauber applies it to the main subject of a text, describing it as the structural center of the index, in which every single heading is implicitly related to it. The structure of an index includes the entry points as headings (and ideas which are more or less important to the metatopic), as well as the cross-references in a system that lies underneath the entry points.  The index structure builds bridges between the user and the content, with the goal of navigation, user satisfaction, guiding retrieval, and discovery.

The metatopic will drive the structural development of the book index.  The ever present problem with metatopics is the temptation to over-index the entire document under a single overarching topic or to ignore the direct indexing of the metatopic altogether.  There are two approaches to indexing the metatopic, which I will discuss in detail in my next blog posting.

For more information about metatopic and index structure, see the article by Margie Towery, “Metatopic and Structure: Creating Better Indexes, Part 7.” Heartland Chapter  of the American Society for Indexing Newsletter, Fall 2014, http://www.heartlandindexers.org/metatopic.html

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com

 

Elegance in a Quality Scholarly Index

October 2nd, 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, readability, reflexivity, and audience-sensitivity.  In the final blog posting of this series, I will focus on elegance as a factor in a quality scholarly index.

This is an elusive, but integral, characteristic of a quality scholarly index.  How might we define elegance in an index?  Webster’s dictionary refers to elegance as “refined grace or dignified propriety; … tasteful richness of design or ornamentation; … dignified gracefulness or restrained beauty of style; … scientific precision, neatness, and simplicity.”  The idea of elegance incorporates restraint and ornamentation, precision and richness, simplicity and neatness.  Indeed, elegance is a balance of art and science.

Elegance shines through in many ways: in structure, conciseness, comprehensiveness, readability, in the language itself – in all the factors that make up a quality scholarly index.  Of course, it helps to have an elegantly written text to index.  That may make the accomplishment of elegance easier.  But the indexer can also create an elegant index from a mediocre text.

This concludes the series on factors comprising a quality scholarly index.  For more information on elegance in a quality scholarly index, see the article by Margie Towery, “The Quality of a Scholarly Index: A Contribution to the Discourse,” Indexing Specialties: Scholarly Books, Information Today, Inc., Medford, NJ, 2005, pp.81-94.

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com

 

Audience in a Quality Scholarly Index

September 18th, 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, readability, and reflexivity.  In this blog posting, I will focus on audience-sensitivity as a factor in a quality scholarly index.

As indexers we often talk about creating indexes with the interests of the possible audience in mind.  More importantly, we think we know what various readers of a given book will want to find.  Most of the time, we’re probably as much on target as possible.  However, pointers (cross-references), qualifiers, and headnotes are useful tools that aid the reader in using the index.  We can also interpret the jargon for index users, as far as is possible.  In addition, we can cross-reference or double-post acronyms and their spelled-out versions.

Certainly, we do our best, but we truly have a shortage of data on what index users really want.  What we need is usability testing of our indexes on the targeted audience, which would provide us with much needed information.

The final blog post in this series will focus on the last factor of a quality scholarly index, elegance.  For more information about audience-sensitivity, please see the article by Margie Towery, “The Quality of a Scholarly Index: A contribution to the Discourse,” in Indexing Specialties: Scholarly Books, Information Today, Inc., Medford, NJ, 2005, pp.81-94.

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com

Reflexivity in a Quality Scholarly Index

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 http://www.heartlandindexers.org/reflexivity.html

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com

 

Readability in a Quality Scholarly Index

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  http://www.heartlandindexers.org/readability.html

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com

 

Conciseness in a Quality Scholarly Index

June 14th, 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 and comprehensiveness.  In this blog posting, I will focus on conciseness as a factor in a quality scholarly index.

Conciseness, defined

Webster’s defines “concise” as something “marked by brevity of expression or statement; free from all elaboration and superfluous detail.”  The National Information Standards Organization states in its Guidelines for Indexes and Related Information Retrieval Devices to “use terminology that is as specific as the [text] warrant[s] and the indexing language permits.”

Indexers must present an organized structure in an index in as concise a manner as possible while at the same time maintaining clarity and comprehensiveness.  Specificity may be sacrificed for conciseness.  Conciseness may be sacrificed for clarity.

Comments on conciseness

A concise index does not necessarily happen from the beginning of the indexing process.  An indexer may start with longer subheadings than what she will end up with in the final index.  In using longer entries at the start, the indexer can more easily see how to condense and be more concise in the editing stage.  One of the challenges in writing concise indexes is in maintaining clarity in the relationship between the main heading and the subheading.  In maintaining conciseness, the indexer should opt to use everyday language whenever possible, although the index must include the author’s terminology.

The indexer must find a balance between comprehensiveness and conciseness, favoring one over the other, depending on the text, deadline, publisher’s guidelines, and other factors.  The appropriate balance lies in how these factors fit with the text at hand.

Future blog postings will discuss the other factors of a quality scholarly index.  For more information on conciseness in a quality scholarly index, see the article by Margie Towery, “Comprehensiveness and Conciseness: Creating Better Indexes, Parts 4 and 5.”  Heartland Chapter of the American Society for Indexing Newsletter, Fall 2013 http://www.heartlandindexers.org/comprehensivenessconciseness.html

For more information about the services provided by the author of this blog, see the Stellar Searches LLC website, http://www.stellarsearches.com