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Indexing Terms

Author Index
Subject Index Format
See-Also Cross-References
Page Range Format
Volume Number Format
Levels of Headings ("Depth" of Index)
Pages Available (Length Limit)

Author Index

Separate indexes in a book are generally frowned upon because it is very easy for the reader to find one index and overlook the other. Separate author indexes are an exception. Readers of scholarly books and textbooks expect to find a separate index of cited authors. (Authors who are subjects of the discussion, on the other hand, are included in the subject index.)

University and scholarly presses usually use either the Chicago or APA style guides. Chicago is short for The Chicago Manual of Style. APA is short for the American Psychological Association. These guides are quite specific. For example, Chicago recommends that authors "cited in notes only as documentation should not usually be indexed in any form." Some non-university presses tend to be more inclusive and to index all authors who are cited.

My spec sheet has choices about how to enter author names. Foreign names and names with diacritics may need special treatment. (I use AACRII, the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, as well as Chicago for foreign names.) There are also variations in the handling of multiple authors of works. Please be as detailed as possible about what you wish for your book. Write on the back of my specification sheet if you need to.

I do not charge for creating author indexes. But please note that due to the additional work required, books with more than 350 author citations will be charged at 0.25 cents per indexable page over the customary rate.


This is the classic example:

Letter-by-letter (ignores spaces and punctuation marks). In this case, the letter "a" after "New" sorts before the letter "j" after "New:"

New Jersey
New York

Word-by-word (sorts by first word, and if necessary by second word, third word, etc.). In this case the word "New" sorts before the word "Newark"

New Jersey
New York

Letter-by-letter is the most common method. It’s preferred for computer and other books where technical terms or words with variant spellings are used.
Word-by-word is preferred when you want to group together topics that begin with the same word, e.g., personal names.

In either type of sorting, when commas occur, the "persons, then places, then things" distinction may also be used:

Baker, John
Baker, Mary
Baker, California
Baker in the Rye (cookbook)

Sometimes it works best to do the index first and decide on a sort order when finished.

Indexers have many special conventions for sorting words or phrases that contain punctuation marks. You probably will never need to know these rules.

There are also several non-alphabetical methods of sorting. These may be important for you to know about. These non-alphabetical methods of sorting include: ASCII code, chronological, logical, numerical, and symbolic. I’ll cover why you might use these variations in my free newsletter. Click here to sign up!

Format for Subject Index

Indented looks like this:

    eating, 18
    growing, 5
    serving, 102
    pumpkin, 8
    raisin, 9
    whole wheat, 7

Run-in looks like this:

Artichokes: eating, 18;
    growing, 5; serving, 102
Breads: pumpkin 8; raisin, 9;
    whole wheat, 7

Run-in saves space, but indented is easier to scan.

See-Also Cross-Reference Format

"See-also" cross-references are references to similar topics, opposite aspects of a topic, narrow aspects of a topic, broader terms relating to the topic, or synonyms, e.g., Football, See also College football; Football equipment; Monday Night Football (ABC); Soccer; Team Sports; Stadiums; and names of individual coaches or players.

See-also cross-references are a real service to the reader. Books should usually include them.

"See-also" cross-references can be placed at the top following the main heading, or they can be listed at the bottom of a main heading’s entire list of subheadings. Most indexes put "See-also" cross-references at the top. Scholarly publications may prefer to place "See-also" references at the bottom of the subheadings list.

Here are some reasons for these different placements:
    1. Putting the "See-also" cross-reference at the top enables the reader to quickly skip to narrower or related topics.

    2. When the "See-also" cross-reference occurs at the bottom, the reader must scan down the entire list of subheadings before being directed elsewhere. This helps ensure that the reader has seen all the choices under a main heading before looking elsewhere.
In an indented index, multiple "See-also" cross-references that follow a list of sub-headings can be typed on separate lines or strung together with semi-colons in-between.

Page Range Format

Full page ranges means just that, e.g., 125-126. Chicago is short for The Chicago Manual of Style. Chicago, used mainly for scholarly books, shortens some page ranges.

This line also refers to bold or italic type for page numbers. For example, italic page numbers to indicate illustrations.

Sometimes, rather than put the page number in italic or bold, publishers use an abbreviation in italic or bold after the page number. Common abbreviations are:

f for figure
i for illustration
n for note (followed by the number of the note, e.g., 99n1)
t for table

Please state if you want bold or italic type and/or abbreviations with page numbers.

The standard page number format is: a comma between the heading and first page number—and a comma between each successive page number, e.g.,

Leaves of grass, 10, 21, 55, 108

This format will be used unless you indicate otherwise.

Volume Number Format

This is often a Roman numeral. Volume numbers (whether Roman or Arabic) are sometimes put in bold type and separated from page numbers by a colon. The reference section in a library or bookstore is a good place to check out the different styles used for volume numbers.
Levels of Headings ("Depth" of Indexing)

This can mean two things. First, how much of the content do you want indexed? One can index "lightly" or "heavily." Lightly-indexed books are ones where an average of one or two topics per page are indexed. Heavily-indexed books such as almanacs, encyclopedias or technical manuals where ten, 20, or even 30 or 40 items per page are indexed!

Here this question means "how many levels of subheadings does the index need?"

Subheadings are specific aspects of a broader topic (the "main heading"). Indexes with no subheadings are usually, but not always, an indication of inferior quality. Commonly indexes have two levels of headings ("main headings" and "subheadings"). "Heavily" indexed books often will have a third level of headings (called "sub-subheadings"). But sometimes even books of average depth can use some sub-subheadings.

Third-level headings, or sub-subheadings, can be made in both indented and run-on indexes.

Pages Available for Index (Length Limit)

Indexes commonly occupy from two to 20 percent of a book's pages. The size depends on the purpose of the book and how the index is laid out by the book designer.

If there is a limit placed on the index, it should be expressed in terms of total lines. Typically an index page will have two columns of about 50 to 60 lines each. (Each line in a column will be about 35-40 characters in width.) So, for a 100-page book where five pages are reserved for the index, it works out to a total of 500 to 600 lines for the index. (That’s 50 x 2 x 5, or 60 x 2 x 5.)

Estimating how much space an index will take can be tricky. It is a good idea to consult with the indexer before limiting the space for an index. However, if space must be limited, you should mention that when filling out this form.

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