Embedded vs. Stand-alone Indexes

Selecting the right type of index can save you both time and money.

You create an embedded index by entering index markers directly into your document. You then generate the index from the embedded markers. With a stand-alone index, you create the index as a separate text file using dedicated indexing software. Embedded indexes are used commonly for software documentation while stand-alone indexes are used extensively in book publishing.

Embedded Indexes

Embedded indexes allow you to make changes to the document and then recompile the index. Embedded indexes are useful when you are
  • adjusting the layout or formatting of a document
  • making minor updates or additions to a document
  • creating an index for an online or hypertext document
The flexibility of embedded indexes comes with a price, however. A document filled with embedded index markers can be tricky to edit without disturbing or inadvertently deleting some of the index markers. For example, if you move a paragraph with an end-of-range index marker to a new location in the document, you can easily corrupt that index entry—and the error may or may not be visibly apparent.

Stand-alone Indexes

On the other hand, stand-alone indexes can be created in 30 to 40% less time than embedded indexes. Any minor changes to the pagination can be handled readily using dedicated indexing software. Dedicated indexing software packages provide many functions that facilitate the indexing process. For example, dedicated indexing software will flag blind or circular cross-references ("See" and "See also"). Stand-alone indexes can be created for print-based documents as well as some hypertext documents.

Typically, if you are modifying 30% or more of a document, it’s more economical to create a fresh index that to revise an existing one. Revising and restructuring an old index can be difficult and time consuming. When you anticipate making substantial revisions or additions to a document on the next release, creating a stand-alone index for each new release will minimize costs both in the short– and long–term.

Use a stand-alone index when you

  • need an index fast
  • anticipate making substantial revisions to the next release of a document
  • need to keep current costs to a minimum

Two-step Indexing Process

Professional indexers will often create a stand-alone index first and then embed the index markers. This two-step process takes advantage of the many special functions provided by dedicated indexing software. The total time required is about the same or less than for embedding the index markers directly. In some cases, you can publish the document immediately using the stand-alone index and then embed the index markers afterwards.

Fred Brown
Allegro Technical Indexing
(613) 728-9373

March, 2001
Allegro Time!

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