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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:

  1. 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.
  2. It also takes a human to link similar topics with cross-references ("see" and "see also").
  3. 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.
  4. Only a human can judge what topics are important enough to include in the index.
  5. 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).
  6. Computers are great at carrying out instructions for sorting and formatting. But they need humans to give them instructions.
  7. There's more than one way to alphabetize an index. A human must decide which method to use.
  8. 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.
  9. Should the preface, footnotes, charts, and appendices be referenced in the index? A human must judge whether they contain substantive information.
  10. 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

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