It’s likely that you’ve never paid much attention to the index of something you’re reading for your own leisure purposes – a magazine or a work of fiction, for example. However, if you’re researching a subject, or need to refer back to a particular page,
. If you’re writing a long document or a book yourself, you might know where everything is, but it’s important for your future readers to know where to look up the information they need.
. As it will be this that will serve as a summary of the contents as well as where to find them. To that end, they have to be accurate, and they have to be short enough so as not to be either confusing or simply inaccurate.
One major mistake writers make is to write their index first – unless you specifically have your writing outlined in such a way that to do this will serve as a useful guide to you, leave it until last, and don’t number the pages; you might find as you’re writing that chapters serve better in a different place to your original plan, or that some material needs to be included or left out altogether.
You might also find it useful to organize your information as you go to make your final task easier. Editing and trying to create an index at the same time could prove to be a huge headache, but if you’re the kind of writer who tends to do a lot of your editing as you go, you will find life easier when it comes to creating your index. You could also decide at this point how detailed you want your index to be – if your chapter headings aren’t necessarily clear as regards exactly where your reader might find what they’re looking for, you may need subheadings as well for clarity.
Once you’re happy that your information is complete and in the right order, number your pages – in terms of preparing your index, you might want to open a document with two columns, so that titles and page numbers match up clearly. This will also make editing easier should there be any last-minute additions or deletions. Your software may even allow you to generate an index automatically, which can save a lot of time.
If your document is going to be available both online and offline, you will need to remember that clickable links won’t make a lot of sense in your paper copy, and if so, your physical copy needs an appendix to clarify or support information given in the main body of your text. Your index should reflect that there are differences between the two documents – for clarity, you may wish to indicate those differences by using italic text, for example.
If you have never prepared a document requiring an index before, it can be daunting.