Why use a professional indexer to create an index?

About indexing and indexers

Indexing is both an art and a science. It requires meticulous attention to detail, an ability to understand and make links between different concepts, and judgement about what to include and what to leave out.

A good indexer needs to see and understand what the author wants to get across and stand in the place of the reader. The index needs to meet the needs of the person who has never read the book and the person who has read it and wants to return to a particular passage or topic. In both cases the index entry needs to take the user to a useful point.

The skills needed to be an indexer are developed through training (such as that provided by The Society of Indexers) and with experience.

Some common questions and myths about indexing

Wouldn't the author be the best person to create the index?

The author is an expert in their subject but the index is intended for the reader who may not be. The indexer will anticipate the reader's needs and approach to the subject providing suitable signposts to the maintext.

So, although terms used by the author will appear in the index, a good index will include additional terms that may be used by the reader.
The author may not have the technical skills or the time to complete a suitable index.

Don't computers create the index nowadays?

A word-processing programme may be able to create a list of words - but that is not an index. Software programmes help the indexer create the index but cannot replace the intellectual process and judgment that are needed.

Surely, now that people use electronic books, search facilities make a traditional index redundant?

Wrong! While a search facility can be useful in some circumstances, it falls down in many ways. For instance, the user needs to use a word or phrase included in the text; alternative entry points to the text will not be suggested; and the results will simply list every occurrence of the searched term.