Top ten reasons humans create better indexes than computers
Publications trap valuable information when corners are
cut on the back-of-the-book index, according to Jane Rea, EEI's
manager of editorial services. If the publisher settles for a
quick computer-generated index, readers can't always find what
they're looking for. Consider these reasons a human should be
involved in crafting an index that will unlock your next book:
- Computers create lists of words or phrases and where they
appear. Only a human can group related words and phrases under
the broad topics we use to seek information.
- It also takes a human to link similar topics with cross-references
("see" and "see also").
- There are lots of words with more than one meaning, even
"book" - reading material with covers, or what happens to a
suspect down at the station house? Only a human can decide.
- Only a human can judge what topics are
important enough to include in the index.
- Not everyone will look for the exact same
words that the author used. A human indexer will help by "double
posting" (repeating the same information under a synonym).
- Computers are great at carrying out instructions
for sorting and formatting. But they need humans to give them
- There's more than one way to alphabetize an index. A human
must decide which method to use.
- Computers don't care if an index includes
a string of "undifferentiated references" (six, seven, eight
or more pages for a topic). A human will sort that string into
sub-topics so readers can find what they are looking for.
- Should the preface, footnotes, charts, and appendices
be referenced in the index? A human must judge whether they
contain substantive information.
- Sometimes space for an index is limited, and it's tough
to get a computer to edit its work to meet that constraint.
Now it's your turn to ask EEI's indexing experts
a question. For a bit of free advice, send a brief e-mail to email@example.com.