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Daniel Weltman

For the first book I ever indexed (out of two total, so, I'm not exactly an expert) I was provided the Harvard University Press guidelines (https://www.hup.harvard.edu/resources/authors/pdf/hup-author-guidelines-indexing.pdf) - not super useful; and the Chicago Manual of Style, which has a big old section on indexing - mildly useful. Mostly what I found useful was exactly the process Marcus describes: figure out what people want in an index and put them in the index. There's not really any trick.

For my second index I figured I'd try out one of those auto-indexing programs. Effectively what they do is look for common words/phrases and compile an index based on those. That saved about 45 seconds, or in other words it was not worth it. All the terms the indexer suggester that were plausible terms for inclusion were ones I would've arrived at myself, and 80% of the output was junk rather than plausible terms for the index.

Trevor Hedberg

You're not going to compile the index until the very end of the publishing process since you need your page numbers to be final and accurate. Because of that, I think the best time to put the index together is in conjunction with your final proofreading. As you comb through the manuscript for those pesky typos and formatting errors, takes notes regarding index terms and page numbers. That makes for a very busy few days, but it's pretty efficient.

I know from experience that Routledge also has their own indexing guidelines, so I suspect every publisher has a document of that sort. Use their guidelines to create a template before you start your work and then just plug in the relevant terms and page numbers. Compared to the herculean effort required to write and revise a book-length manuscript, this process should be pretty easy.

Jakub Macha

I have good experiences with tools that generate frequencies for lemmatized words and colocations (I use Sketch Engine, but there are plenty of others). Looking at the indexes of thematically similar books is also very useful. The most tricky part of all this is to break complex entries into sub-entries or combine more flat entries into complex entries. I don't think there is any general rule or a tool for this.


"You're not going to compile the index until the very end of the publishing process since you need your page numbers to be final and accurate."

If you use LaTeX (or I assume some other markup languages), you can do the index while you actually write the book. You just use the index package, and as you type follow-up key words with an index tag, e.g. "bla bla bla key word\index{key word} bla bla".

I find it's not hard to notice, as you write, which words should be indexed (you can drop tags in any many locations, for the same term, as you like), and then the index package takes care of the rest --- it auto-generates the index, formatted however you like, with all the pages.

Just another advantage of using LaTeX.

Peter Furlong

I second Jakub's idea of looking at indexes from similar books. This was a big help to me. I will also say that although Trevor is right that compared to the production and revision of a book, the index is easy, it was also the only part of book production that I completely hated. I didn't have the money to pay someone else to do the index, but I completely understand why some people take this route.

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