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What Makes a Good Index?
What Makes a Good Index?
Think of the various indexes you’ve used in the past. No doubt some were better than
others. Some left out the main topics you were looking for or seemed disorganized. And
some documents might not have had an index at all, which can be really frustrating when
you’re looking for something specific.
There’s a recipe for creating a good index, so if you’ve never created one before, take heart.
Here are some things you should be sure to include in the indexes you create:
Usability. An index is first and foremost a reader service. Make sure that you’ve
included all major topics, and that you’ve thought through the alternative ways
readers might be looking for those topics. Include topics, subtopics, and references to
other topics for related information (for example, See Parenting teens).
Readability. Using terms your readers will recognize—whether or not they’re
familiar with the content of your document—is important. If you’re unsure about the
various ways a reader might reference a certain topic, ask others how they would look it
up so that you know what kinds of phrasing would be helpful. Talk to others on your
team or in your department to make sure you’ve used words and phrases that will be
easily understood.
Cross-references. Cross-references in an index refer readers to other topics that
provide more information.
Logical structure . One mistake new indexers often make is to include every
important-sounding word they think would be helpful. You’ll help your readers find
what they are looking for if you think through your index carefully. Which topics are
most important? How many different ways might a reader refer to them? What are
the words that will be used most often in a search?
Multiple entries. Listing a topic in more than one way helps readers find what
they’re looking for. For example, someone wanting to know how to choose a
background color for a heading might look under document , headings , color , or
background to find that particular topic.
After you identify key words and phrases for your index, create a list and send it to
others in your department. Ask for their input, additions, and suggestions. Doing this type
of phrase testing for your index before you create it can save you editing time later.
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