An American Editor

March 18, 2019

Book Indexes: Multivolume Indexes

Ælfwine Mischler

Last year, I had the pleasure of indexing the third and final volume of a history of Egyptology while creating a combined index of volumes 1–3. (I confess that I have a bit of a soft spot for this book. Volume 1 was my first paid index — and a complicated text for a first-timer — and I was thrilled that the author included me in the acknowledgments.)

When I indexed volumes 1 and 2, the publisher had not thought of having a combined index in the last volume, so I did nothing out of the ordinary in indexing the first two books. When the publisher asked for a combined index, I asked colleagues for any tips or tricks, and they alerted me that it would be a lot more work than just merging the first two files into the third. They were not joking! (Fortunately, I was able to negotiate a higher per-page price.)

More Editing

The publisher gave me PDFs of the final indexes for volumes 1 and 2, and I compared these carefully with the indexes I had written. I wanted to see any changes the publisher had made and refresh my memory of both the subjects I had indexed and their organization.

In my indexing software (I use Sky Indexing), I made a copy of each volume’s index and entered the publisher’s edits, and then increased the locator numbers (a locator is a page or a range of pages) by 1000 in volume 1 and by 2000 in volume 2. Thus, for example, page 35 in volume 1 became 1035 and page 35 in volume 2 became 2035. I then merged these into a new file, in which I indexed volume 3. I changed the page numbers to the correct forms with volume numbers as a final step so I would not have to type 3: before every locator for the new items.

The real extra work came in creating and organizing subentries. Many entries in volumes 1 and 2 had only a few locators without subentries. When the indexes were combined, these entries had too many locators and I had to make subentries. This required going back into the PDFs for those volumes and rereading those pages.

Other entries in a single volume had subentries, but there were so many in the combined index that they became unwieldy. I reworded some subentries to combine them, but more often, I put the subentries into broad categories and split them into nested entries.

Two of the great names in Egyptology illustrate this editing process.

Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, had only five locators in the index of volume 1 (covering from antiquity to 1881), with no subentries. In volume 2 (covering from 1881–1941), he had 14 subentries. In volume 3, the discovery of Tutankhamun covered 40 pages in two chapters, and in the combined index, Carter was in two nested entries:

Sir Flinders Petrie also appeared in all three volumes. In the volume 1 index, he had seven locators with no subentries. (In volume 1, which covered a much longer span of time, the managing editor and I agreed to use longer strings of locators to save space.) In volume 2, there were 26 subentries for Petrie. In volume 3, the Petrie entry was nested to break the subentries into broad categories:

I made some other changes in the combined index. Many of the big names had a subentry “career” or “early career” or “legacy.” These were all force-sorted as the first subentry under the name. Volume 1 discussed many books. I reviewed these entries and removed some from the index that were mentioned with little or no discussion. This was relatively easy to do in the indexing software because I could group all the records that had italics in the main entry. If a book had only one locator, I reread the page in the PDF. Sometimes there was sufficient discussion to keep the title in the index. In addition to these smaller edits, I reorganized some of the large entries.

When I was finished with the editing, I changed the locator numbers to volume and correct page number — an easy task in the software.

This long, complicated index needed a final check. For this, I generated a page proof in numbered order. (This option may not be available in all indexing software.) I went through the page proof line by line. This allowed me to check that double-posted items were correct; for example, that 2:17–20 appeared in both “Petrie, Sir William Flinders, methods and techniques of: excavation” and “methods and techniques of archaeologists: of Petrie.”

With a Heads-up

In this situation, I did not know that a combined index would be required in the last volume of the series when I worked on the first two volumes. What if I had a heads-up on another project? What would I do differently in indexing the early volumes?

I would create subentries for anything that was likely to appear in the following volumes, even if it did not require subentries in the current volume. When I was finished editing the index with the extraneous subentries, I would suppress them in the current index, saving them for the later combined index.

This could be done in one of two ways. I could save the index with a different name, and then in the new one, consume the extraneous subentries, that is, remove the subentries but retain the locators, which my software can easily do. When I made the combined index, I would merge the file with the subentries into the new file.

Or I could duplicate each of the entries with extraneous subentries in one file, label them with a color code and filter them out, and then consume the subentries in the unfiltered records. To make the combined index, I would unfilter the records with subentries.

Either way, the combined index would still be more work than a single-volume index, and I would charge a higher rate. A combined index is more than the sum of its parts. Be aware of this if you are either of the parties negotiating for such an index.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

December 24, 2018

Indexes: Part 7 — Lessons Learned in Using DEXembed for the First Time

Editor’s note: This version of the post incorporates corrections made by the author to the Options and Advice sections.

Ælfwine Mischler

I recently created an embedded index in Word for a book that will be published as an ebook and in print. I chose to use DEXembed because colleagues advised that its syntax — a space between the curly brackets and the enclosed text — will work better when the text is converted to an ebook.

A quick explanation of an embedded index: For a print book, the index is written after the book has been designed, using a PDF file of the final pages and page numbers as locators. This is changing, and many publishers are now asking for embedded indexes. For an embedded index, the indexer uses something else as locators. Depending on the program used, this could be paragraph numbers, word numbers, or temporary bookmarks. After indexing, the program embeds the entries by inserting field codes that look like this: { XE “main entry:subentry” }. The index is then generated from the field codes so the pages numbers are displayed. In an ebook, they may also be linked to the location in the text. If the book is designed as hardcover and paperback with different pagination, the embedded index entries will give the correct page numbers for each edition.

Embedded indexes are more work for the indexers, so most of us will charge more for an embedded index.

Options in DEXembed

DEXembed (available from the Editorium) is a Word add-on that allows the indexer to use dedicated indexing software rather than Word’s clunky built-in indexing function. DEXembed can use paragraphs, words, or numbers as locators — but only one type in a given document. Paragraph number was the best choice for this project, but the author had sometimes used auto-spacing and other times had used Enter twice between paragraphs. I told him repeatedly that he had to remove the extra Enters and make the spacing between paragraphs consistent (which he did) and that he could not change the paragraphing after I had started indexing. (More on that in the second part of this article in February 2019.)

Experienced colleagues in the Digital Publications Indexing Special Interest Group (DPI SIG) say that Word does not handle ranges of locators well. It is therefore better to mark only the beginnings of entries that are less than two pages long. DEXembed offers three options for ranges: Mark them with bookmarks, mark them with beginning and end codes, or do not mark them. The documentation for DEXembed says that publishers usually prefer begin and end codes.

Before starting my index, I sent two small sample indexes to my author’s publisher — one using bookmarks and one using begin and end codes — and asked which worked better for them. They got better results with the bookmarks, which also meant one less step for me in the end. Hurray!

I Won’t Talk to You

DPI SIG members also advised me that Word and InDesign use different syntax for some things, and I had to take this into consideration while indexing. I also found that my Sky indexing software and Word do not always communicate well.

This index required a separate scripture index of Qur’an verses. In Word, you can use an f-switch that is coded with \f followed by a name to make two indexes at once { “heading1” \f “subject” } and { “heading1” \f “quran” } (See Seth A. Maislin’s blog for more.) However, my colleagues advised that InDesign will reject XE fields with a backslash.

A suggested solution that I followed was to use two levels of subentries, with the main entries for the two indexes. That is, I had only two main entries, for which I used bold text, and my first level of subentry was the real main entry I wanted. The sub-subentry was the real subentry I wanted. The designers can adjust the indentation and spacing to make these appear as two separate indexes:

The chapter and verse numbers presented two other problems of their own. How to write something like 2:10? First, Word signals heading levels with a colon, so I had to use a backslash before the colon to tell Word that this was a literal colon, not a subheading signal. I admit that at that point, I had forgotten the warnings of my colleagues that InDesign would reject these entries.

As of this writing, I am waiting for the author’s comments and corrections, and the results of a small test index for the publisher: three entries using a backslash and colon, and three using a plus sign to be replaced by a colon in the generated index. If I do indeed have to remove \: from the index, I want to be sure that + is not a signal for something else in InDesign.

A second problem in writing chapter and verse numbers was the sorting. I knew that in Sky, I had to enter one- and two-digit chapter numbers with preceding zeros so they would sort properly. Thus, Chapter 2 was entered as 002 and Chapter 16 as 016. The verse numbers following the colons, however, sorted properly in Sky without additional zeros.

Word was not happy with that, but I could only learn that at the end. I finished my index, embedded the entries, generated the index, and then found that Word had mis-sorted the verses so that, for example, 18:70 came before 18:7. I had to open Sky, add the zeros to the verses, re-embed the entries, generate the new index, and remove the extra zeros from the generated index.

Maybe I’ll Talk a Little Bit

Another difference between Sky and Word is how they handle text to be ignored in sorting. Sky’s sorting automatically ignores prepositions at the beginning of subentries, but  Word’s does not. Sky also allows the indexer to code other things to be ignored in sorting. I commonly do this with the al- that begins many Arabic names.

For the embedded index, I had to enclose items to be ignored in angle brackets, but then in Sky, they all sorted to the top because they started with symbols. I was not sure that Word would put <al->Bukhari, <al->Ghazali, <al->Tabari, etc., in the proper places in the generated index. On this, I did have success, but I had to go back to the few subentries that begin with prepositions and enclose the prepositions in angle brackets.

DEXembed uses a text file to embed the entries, and all the bold and italics are lost in the process, although their coding remains. Once the entries were embedded, I had to edit the XE fields to get the bold and italic formatting back. (See Sue Klefstad’s blog post for details.) This was not difficult with a Find and Replace using wildcards (but be sure to turn off Tracked Changes!), but it was an extra step to perform.

Advice for Embedded Indexing

It is important to communicate with the author and publisher before beginning an embedded index. Learn how the Word manuscript will be handled after indexing and how it will be published. (There is more information on the resources page of the DPI SIG website.)

Once you have written your index in your dedicated indexing software, always embed in a copy of the document. Always keep the original “clean” and do not embed in it. Sometimes Word does not embed the entries properly and you might have to try again. DEXembed does have a function to remove embedded entries, but if Word gives you run-time errors as it did to me (see the second part of my February 2019 column), you will want to try again in a clean copy so there is no chance of stray coding in the file.

My thanks to colleagues Sue Klefstad and Seth A. Maislin for their invaluable blog posts, and to other colleagues in the DPI SIG for their advice in e-mail messages.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

October 15, 2018

Indexes — Part 5: Names in Indexes

Ælfwine Mischler

A potential client recently asked me what an index is. Does it contain every name and event in a book? How is it different from a concordance?

A concordance maps every occurrence of words in a work or corpus, usually with the surrounding words to provide some context. A concordance might categorize the words by parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) or by form (run, running, runny). There are, for example, concordances for the Bible, Shakespeare, Old English literature (which has a limited corpus), and the Qur’an (in Arabic). For most books, though, a concordance is not very useful.

Imagine a book about aardvarks — do you really want to know where every occurrence of the word aardvark is? Wouldn’t you rather want to know where to find information about the diet, habitats, mating habits, diseases, and natural enemies of aardvarks? That is what a well-written index provides. Indexers create entries for the topics discussed in a book and — if they do the job right — break long topics into subentries so readers can easily find what they want. Nobody wants to check all the pages in a long string of page numbers (or other locators) to find particular information.

What about names of people — should every instance of every name appear in an index?

Not usually. A computer-generated index might pick out all the words beginning with a capital letter and index them without differentiating between those that are passing mentions and those attached to substantial information. If a page says that Fay Canoes went with Bob Zurunkel, and that Fay did X, Y, and Z, and Fay said “yadda yadda” and “blah blah blah,” Fay is going to be indexed for that page, but not Bob. He is just a passing mention there. If Fay appears many times in the book, a human-produced index will usually have subentries for Fay, but a computer-generated index will not.

Often, a trade book or one that has limited space for the index will have longer strings of locators — and, thus, fewer subentries — and fewer details in the index.

As I said, usually not every occurrence of every name will appear in the index. There are exceptions, of course, and indexers should anticipate the needs of the reader. For example, in local histories, even passing mentions of every person or place (building, street, town, etc.) should be indexed because they might serve as clues for later researchers. In a handbook of literature, every author’s name might be indexed even if they are only mentioned in passing, but book titles might be indexed only if there is substantial discussion of them. What constitutes “substantial discussion” is sometimes a subjective decision.

Authors used as sources may or may not be indexed, and practice varies from one field to another. In the social sciences, it is common to have a separate name/author index that includes all sources, even if they are named only in parentheses, without subentries. The indexer has to refer to the bibliography to get the first name or initial(s) of authors, so bibliography pages should be counted in the page or word count used for pricing the index.

In other works, sources might be indexed only if there is substantial discussion of their material, or only if the source name appears in the text as opposed to only in a footnote or endnote. Authors and editors should make their expectations clear to the indexer before indexing begins.

Human indexers can decide which names to include in an index. They can also index people with nicknames properly (e.g., recognize that Frank and Buddy are the same person), people whose names have changed over time, and people who are referred to by a title or family relationship. A computer program will not index such people correctly, if at all.

So what goes into an index? That depends on the nature of the book, needs of the reader, practice in a given field, and space available for the index. If you have particular needs or questions, discuss them with your indexer before work begins. If you are the indexer, be sure to have this conversation before you begin the work.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

September 17, 2018

Book Indexes — Part 4: The Metatopic

Ælfwine Mischler

A few years ago, I was asked to index a book about a medieval ruler and the mosque and city he built. The book was primarily an architectural history, but it included substantial information about the city and about the ruler’s childhood in central Asia and its influence on the mosque’s architecture.

But I was told that the names of both the ruler and the mosque, and the name of the city, were not to appear in the index.

I interpreted this to mean that those names were not to be main entries. There were entries on the other cities in the country discussed, so I put the forbidden city as a subentry under “cities,” and I made entries for “education of X” and “rise to power of X” even though I knew that they ought to be subentries under the name of the not-to-be-named ruler.

Being very much a newbie at the time, I asked for a volunteer to peer review my index. My reviewer rightly asked why I had not put main entries for the ruler and the city. When I told her that that was what the editor and author had requested, she suggested that I make a second version of the index with those items properly indexed and give the editor the choice. I did that, but the editor replied that they had decided on the first option. I later saw that in the published version they had also removed the education and rise-to-power entries, as well as the cities main entry so that the “forbidden city” was nowhere to be found in the index, although the other two cities retained their main entries.

Why? I have never understood why the client did not want those items in the index when they were so obviously part of what the book was about.

Long-time indexers say that they were taught decades ago not to index the main topic of the book — what indexers now call the metatopic. Now, though, whenever we peer-review an index, the metatopic is the first thing we look for.

It has been found that when readers use an index, they usually look first for the metatopic that is apparent from the book title or subtitle. If the book is about aardvarks and readers do not find “aardvarks” in the index, they do not conclude that the index is bad; they conclude the book is bad, with nothing about aardvarks.

Obviously, you cannot put everything as subentries under the metatopic, or you would be indexing the whole book. A joke among indexers is of a graduate student who was asked to index his professor’s book. When it came to the metatopic, he started to add page numbers — 1, 2–3, 4, 5–7 — and then threw up his arms with “It’s on every page!”

But under the metatopic(s) — there can be more than one — an indexer can put subentries that cannot stand alone as main entries, such as a definition or other items that readers are unlikely to look for in the index, and then add See also cross-references to guide the reader to the entries for the main discussion. Every main entry in the book should relate to the metatopic(s) in some way.

Here are some of the subentries I put under the metatopic “Egyptology” and the See also cross-references in the index of a three-volume history of Egyptology. (This was a run-in index, which is reflected in the wording, but I am displaying it here as an indented index.)

Handling the metatopic(s) is not always easy, and indexers have different ways to approach the task. The metatopic(s) may be easy to identify from the title or subtitle, or by reading the introduction and conclusion — which indexers read before beginning the index. On the other hand, in a complex scholarly book, the metatopic may not be readily apparent. An indexer may formulate the metatopic as a sentence or short paragraph before deciding on a concise phrasing suitable for an index entry.

As a reader, do you look for the metatopic when you open an index for the first time? Are you disappointed if you do not find it? Have you noticed a difference in indexing styles between older and newer books?

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

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