Evaluating Indexes

A superior index covers all of the pertinent information in the book, is pleasing to the eye, and is easy to use. It must be accurate and consistent in the level of coverage. When there are strict space limits, the indexer must include the most important concepts while excluding less important mentions.

A superior index can also be characterized by what it is not. Here are some examples of what to avoid in an index (based on actual occurrences in non-WordCo indexes). This is by no means an exhaustive list:

1) Spelling errors and inconsistencies: SpellCheck can help, but it will often not catch misspelled names and inconsistent spellings. For example, the book refers to “Vietnam” but the index contains “Viet Nam.”

2) Erroneous page locators: the index says it’s on page 274, but it’s actually on page 275.

3) Long strings of undifferentiated page locators, with either no breakdown in subheadings, or inadequate subheadings. Example:

Systems thinking, 28-32, 46, 92, 100-101, 125, 196-197, 250, 323, 389-390, 402, 456.
                  defined, 10
                  need for, 363

4) Incorrect use of cross-references. Example:

Oak trees, 3, 15, 22-24, 35, 69, 82, 84. See Trees.

In this case, the cross-reference should be See also instead of See. Also, there is no need to cross-reference for a specific type of tree (in this case “oak”) to the generic “Trees” heading.

5) Malformed entries. Example: “health, care” instead of “healthcare”.

6) Arbitrary coverage of certain types of information. Example: a major work’s title that is discussed is not included, whereas less-important titles are.

7) Confusing syntax. Example: “Physical health” main heading with the following subheading: “affecting ways” and “mind power.”

8) Overly detailed indexing: Example: a main heading with no locators and having only one subhead with no locators followed by several sub-subheads.

         Septic tanks:
                  for residential properties:
                           installing, 42
                           cleaning, 65

9) Major topics and themes missing from the index. Example: in a book on emotional well-being, there are no index entries for that topic (even though the entire first chapter discusses this).

10) Major topics and themes appear in the index, but only as subheadings under other main headings. They should at least be listed as main headings. Example: in a healthcare book, the main heading “Legislation” contains subheadings of specific laws, many of which are not represented as main headings in the index.

11) Lack of balanced structure. Example: the heading “Cognitive behavioral therapy” has several subheadings (“phobia” and “worrying”), but no subheading for “depression.” However, “cognitive behavioral therapy” does appear as a subheading under the heading “Depression.”


All indexes are not the same, and “bargain” indexes are hardly a bargain if they contain inaccurate page locators, misspellings, long strings of undifferentiated page locators, or other stylistic problems. At WordCo, our focus is on giving you the best value for your money.