What do indexers do?

Indexers are to some extent mind readers.  Essentially, they work to anticipate what the future readers of a publication will want to look for in terms of content.  This means that they constantly have the needs of future readers at the forefront of their minds when they are deciding on the entries which will make up the body of the index.

Indexers know that without an index, a reader effectively does not have a map.  Accordingly, the professional indexer engages in a process of intense subject analysis and then makes careful, thoughtful and discerning choices so that future readers will not find themselves going down time-wasting tracks that lead nowhere.

Indexers need to be extremely thorough, accurate, systematic and even pernickety but these qualities are always complemented by an awareness that clients often have tight deadlines.  A balance therefore needs to be struck between the readership’s needs and the client’s timeframe.  This is no easy task.  Indeed, along with being a mind reader, the professional indexer has to be as deft and sure-footed as a tightrope walker.  The results, however, speak for themselves.  Many people assess the value of a book by going directly to its index.  If there is no index or a poorly constructed index with not enough entries or an unreasonable level of cross-references, readers will bypass the book and turn to other texts which will provide them with better maps to meet their information needs.

Mind reading and tightrope walking are not exactly the activities that most people would think of when contemplating what an indexer does but it is no exaggeration to say that the worth of a non-fiction book owes much to an indexer’s abilities to do the impossible!