The Importance of Indexes

The most frequently-asked question that professional indexers get, it seems, is “can’t a computer do that?” My next column will deal with the differences between an index and a concordance, which is what computers can do, but in the meantime I want to explain what an index is and why indexes are a necessary part of a book. The American Society of Indexers website ( gives an excellent overview for anyone wanting to know basic information:

What is indexing?
According to the British indexing standard (BS3700:1988), an index is a systematic arrangement of entries designed to enable users to locate information in a document. The process of creating an index is called indexing, and a person who does it is called an indexer. There are many types of indexes, from cumulative indexes for journals to computer database indexes. This discussion concentrates on the back-of-the-book index, found in non-fiction books.

As I muddle through ulpan, I am frequently fascinated by the connections that Hebrew words and/or their roots have with each other. It was very interesting to learn that the Hebrew word for “index” is maftayakh, which is the same as the word for “key”—the index is the key that unlocks what is inside of a book, making its contents easy to find. I was barely amused, however, to discover from a real Israeli indexer that she is not always understood when using this word to describe her profession and eventually had to resort to saying “Ani osah indexsim”! I don’t want people thinking I make keys for a living, but despite the writing of this column coinciding with my ulpan unit on job titles, even my teacher was baffled at what to call me! (If any of you less-new Israelis know, feel free to comment...)

Who does indexing?
In the United States, according to tradition, the index for a non-fiction book is the responsibility of the author. Most authors don’t actually do it. While a few publishers have in-house indexers, most indexing is done by freelancers, often working from home, hired by authors, publishers or packagers. (A packager is an independent business which manages the production of a book by hiring freelancers to accomplish the various tasks involved, including copyediting, proofreading and indexing.) More often, the indexer is hired by the publisher, and the fee is deducted from the money due the author. If a packager hires the indexer directly, various payment arrangements can be made.

This, I believe, is where America has it right and Israel is not quite there yet, but a girl can always hope! As for the “why” of indexing, the explanation that I keep on my business website for clients sums it up pretty well.

The inclusion of a quality index is essential to the value of publications. Indexes do much more for books than provide a list of key words contained in them. A professional indexer reads and digests the meaning in a book and relates concepts in one part of the book to concepts in another. We are very well-read and know how to quickly, efficiently and accurately index the important information in a book. We are detail-oriented and can organize these details into a meaningful order. We bring an objectivity to the comprehension of a book’s concepts which represents the author’s perspective while keeping the reader’s point of view. We are also familiar with publishing practices, limitations and deadlines, and are skilled at working within the parameters dictated by the publisher. My indexes would greatly enhance the useability and increase sales of your books. By contacting me when your next title is being planned, I can show you that adding my indexes to your books will present readers with a text that is a more valuable tool than a one-time read.

Stay tuned for a comparison of indexes and concordances!

Shoshana Hurwitz
Hurwitz Indexing