To Index … or … Not to Index

To Index … or … Not to Index

Indexing is a pain—an essential pain, however—if you are an author who wants to serve your readers up, from your “how to” or informational tome, a digestible list of important terms used and contained within. Your book is a mine of information; the reader needs a map to know and then find the hidden treasure they seek within sometimes hundreds of pages. That is the Table of Contents first, a very general guide, then followed by the Index—labeling in detail the subjects and ideas—as entries and subentries—within the myriad of topics, both related and unrelated, to help the readers zero in on the subject of interest, in their quest for details on a favorite idea. If your book is “library bound,” Indexes are much favored in the Non-Fiction category.

Your Index is the Guide to your book. It creates the doorway to your ideas. | John Maling, Editor

Your Index is the Guide to your book. It creates the doorway to your ideas.

As with books, there is a Beginning, a Middle and an End.

In the Beginning

An Indexer should work with the author during the process of its creation. The author is the guru, the expert, the know-all of the subject matter. Without the author’s input, the indexer is alone in that wilderness, guessing the importance of terms, expertly of course with experience and knowledge, but intuiting nevertheless. What does the author intend; what will the readers be looking for; what headings will they consider that reveal clearly the written presence of their interests? Inclusion and Exclusion are key operational terms. What terms are essential, or merely important, or can be omitted as not relevant enough to be included? Economy of page space is also a consideration. What is the author’s printing “budget” regarding the final size and scope of the book? An Index without the author’s input can become a patchwork of intuitive guesses often right but possibly wrong. An experienced Indexer will do well, just as an experienced literary explorer would, to serve both the author and audience. But, a truly satisfactory final product is best achieved in collaboration.


It is essential that the manuscript to be Indexed be finished—words, paragraphs, chapters and pagination “in cement.” Indexing must wait until Layout is complete and the manuscript is ready for the printer. Resist the impulse to continue to revise. Often it is the case with an author to “improve” the manuscript after editing has officially finished and the process of Layout has commenced. Continuing to edit—to revise—during and after Layout by the author and allowing it by the editor, layout person and/or Indexer, is a No-No! It is a very real and understandable impulse—but to be resisted under pain of financial and deadline death by additional time, cost and complication. If a Layout has gone to Indexing, revision of the Layout will almost certainly require a new Index. The author is urged to redirect that desire—and the brilliant clarifications and new ideas driving it—into the creation of “the next book.” Keep in mind that modest changes can be inserted post Layout accompanying corrections resulting from the final, “cold-eye” read-through that is part, at least, of our publishing routine. Modest changes must not flow to another page or cause a change in pagination in any way. Otherwise the Index referencing will be rendered incorrect! And then—guess what!

Getting Started

The most primitive approach to creating an Index is to simply read and list, during a manuscript “read-through” on three by five cards or note sheets, the terms that are judged important enough to be Index entries—a totally manual process. But manuscripts are universally these days digital files, created with a word-processor program like Word. The Menu bar for the “Home” Tab in the Word program has a “Find” button (on the horizontal far right on the bar). By using it during a manuscript “read-through,” it is possible to select each desired term as you read, and then Find and manually list on the cards, all the page numbers—locators—where that given term can be found. The Index can then be created fairly efficiently manually (in two columns for economy) from the stack of cards or the list. It is not necessary to restrict the effort to one inclusive Index. If appropriate, there can be an Author Index for example, i.e., one for a collection of related terms as well as a general term Index. It depends of course on the nature and purpose of the manuscript. There is also a myriad of detail with regard to format, well beyond the scope of this article. For example: indented (listed) versus “run-in” subentries (paragraph), capitalization, name and titling formatting, alphabetization (letter-by-letter or word-by-word), and punctuation.

The Essentials

Word has an Indexing subprogram as well. The manual, Word 2013 for Dummies, outlines the process—a three-stage program—to create an Index. It is not the purpose of this brief article to outline these steps; they can be found within the Word software program and outlined in the above manual. That program, in the opinion of the author of the Word 2013 for Dummies manual, is an “excellent” one, however it is limited, still requiring a great deal of organizational work to create a final, satisfactory Index. My opinion is that a single-purpose computer program devoted to Indexing is the way to go.

Organizational details are taken care of as well as a presentation of up to thousands of terms drawn from the manuscript with locators already listed. The work is then selection of the entries from that presentation and possible additions to the list as the manuscript is reviewed on screen. Commercial programs offer various levels of capability, and prices ranges from several to many hundreds of dollars. It is also not the purpose of this article to recommend one version over another. Do a Google search and seek the opinion of those who have experience with a given program.

A manuscript consists of three parts: Front Matter (FM), Text, and Back Matter (BM). An Index should be limited to the manuscript text, but with some exceptions. A preface may or may not be indexed; an Introduction, the same, and Appendices, as well. The straightforward test of inclusion in the Index is if those FM and BM elements contain information relevant to the textual material.

Key elements to an Index: The main heading, subheadings forming a grammatical relationship with the main heading, and “locators, ”(page numbers or paragraph numbers, depending upon the chosen format). An important element of the heading or subheading usage is cross-referencing. Cross-referencing links a heading or subheading with another, related term, having its own set of locators. The words see or see also follow the term in those cases.

If a heading requires more than five or six locators, it is usually found best to break the set up with appropriate subheadings for clarity and ease in the search for the appropriate term or idea. Finally, serious considerations in the creation of an Index are economy of time, effort and expense as well as effectiveness in clarifying the author’s purpose.

The Central Idea

In summary, the purpose of an Index—major elements of which are briefly described above—is to help clarify a manuscript—the book—for the reader. The Index can be an important—even essential—element of a literary work, usually Non-Fiction, and its presence and effectiveness is often overlooked in the evaluation of a non-fiction literary work.

John Maling


John2005John Maling is an Editor and Indexer. He’s the author of the multi-award winning book, Have Your Ever Held a Mountain? His website is and email

The Beauty and Power of a Mountain Vista – Feel As If You Are Holding a Mountain in Your Hand

Have You Ever Held a Mountain? is an illustrated published poem of mine. I’m honored that is has received multiple book awards as a gift book and for poetry since it was published. An excerpt from it is found below.

Have You Ever Held a Mountain by John MalingAs to its origin — its purpose — in my mountaineering days, long ago, I would fantasize holding the mountain in my hand, the one I and my friends were about climb. Reaching out in my mind was an exercise in imagination. It altered my perspective and consciousness profoundly for the austere but strangely beautiful places I and my companions found ourselves.

We were a diverse lot, but with a common dedicated mindset: after a tedious, exhausting effort meeting the challenge, we hoped to find ourselves eventually on the summit, with a sense of man-overcoming-nature accomplishment and with a world-view of the range we found ourselves in.

Words alone cannot convey the experience of the mountain vista, complex as it is, with its many moods, brought on by kindred moods of weather and light. The poem is photo-illustrated because of this. The poem and accompanying photos, one for each of the 32 lines, gives a succinct visual and verbal description of that imaginary experience — holding a mountain.
. . .
Have you ever held a mountain?
Reached out and touched and asked
Felt its thrust and silence
Before the thunder crashed
Clasped the patient massiveness
Tossed up in ages past?
. . .

USA Book News Best Books Award WinnerThis 6-line excerpt tells something of the intention of the 32 line poem, published by Mile High Press, Ltd., the publishing arm of our author-consulting business. It is headed Dr. Judith Briles, known as The Book Shepherd.

National Indie Excellence AwardsHave You Ever Held a Mountain is beautifully presented in hardback and can be ordered through Amazon.


John2005John Maling is an Editor and Indexer. He’s the author of the multi-award winning book, Have Your Ever Held a Mountain? His website is and email

Maling’s Missives: Can We Talk?

Can We Talk?

The theory of intelligent design, implied in its earlier incarnation, creationism, states that life is too complex and improbable to have evolved in the random manner over time under the governing principle of natural selection postulated by the Darwin-Wallis theory of evolution. The theory of evolution denies, for those believers, God’s role in the creation of life.

This bent towards creationism, for many, depends on a narrow conviction of how God “does things.” Being omnipotent as well as omniscient, he must be responsible for its design rather than that of a mindless process relying on an apparently random sequence of events to create something as complex as life from natural, inanimate materials naturally produced during star creation, evolution and ultimate death.

Intelligent-design believers haven’t given God nearly enough credit for imagination. Needing certainty, and wanting some of the limelight, you believers insist that you have the intelligence and insight into God to see that life must have arisen with direct, possibly constant intervention by the Supreme Being in the manner of Genesis. He would have designed a much more efficient system than evolution, and one where it would be obvious that He was involved, even to our limited (but God-given) human intelligence. We humans would be certain to recognize life as too complex to have happened on the basis of random, low probability processes requiring an incredible length of time.

Those who believe in Genesis and other biblical stories believe them to be the word of God, and except for the Ten Commandments perhaps, written with human help. God was too busy to pen the stories of our human and planetary history, requiring us instead to do it, and, like a parent, giving us childlike satisfaction in shared participation in the process.

But perhaps God was also too busy to devote himself fully to the labor-intensive process of creating our world and life upon it, as we might have done, given the task. God would be acting in the image of man in that case!

Instead, suppose he simply turned life’s creation and evolution over to that leisurely process first divined by Darwin and Russel. Knowing and intending (he being omniscient as well as omnipotent) that his creation, the Universe, a design of his own making involving time, matter and radiation, created with a bang and behaving according to his laws of physics and chemistry, would successfully put the puzzle together, guided in its evolution by his very own, natural (God given) laws. An imperative for life’s creation and evolution was already built into each piece of the puzzle, so to speak. What’s so hard and un-miraculous about that?

In July, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and Press conducted a poll of two thousand Americans. Nearly two-thirds of those polled said that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools, and 42 percent held strict creationist views, agreeing that “living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”

Conclusion: the monument to and the crowning achievement of creative human reason and logic – mathematics, science, engineering and technology – which alone are responsible for the incredible progress, wealth, complexity, practical knowledge and understanding of our world, is being attacked by forces believing in the supremacy of faith, ideology and miracles. Is this latter what the teaching of creationism, now wrapped in the cloak of intelligent design, will be based upon?

Please show me the curriculum. Then we can talk.


John2005John Maling is an Editor and Indexer. He’s the author of the multi-award winning book, Have Your Ever Held a Mountain? His website is and email