There is computer software that can create a concordance—an unanalyzed list of words and phrases that appear in the book. However, this is not an index and does not provide the insight and analysis that a human-generated index does. Unlike a concordance, an index provides access points and cross-references that enhance the user experience. A typical concordance has a very long list of page reference but does not provide the context needed to know which reference is pertinent to the reader’s interest. An index, in contrast, requires textual analysis and a considered interpretation of what’s important in a book.
Most authors do not have the experience, the time, or the software required to create a good index. Often, authors who try to index their own books end up exhausted and frustrated.
You’re the author, and you’re intimately familiar with every name, date, and concept in your book. Your readers, however, don’t have your depth of knowledge. The indexer is experienced in looking at the book through the readers’ eyes and knows how they will search for the information they need. Professional indexers are professional readers. Their job is to think like readers. Training and experience have taught the professional which terms to apply and where and when to apply them to maximize the utility and value of the index.
The professional indexer is specially trained in the art and science of indexing. A professional indexer is adept at synthesizing the author’s essential information into a well-organized index so that readers can find the information they need easily and quickly. A professional indexer is experienced working with publishers’ requirements and is able to meet tight deadlines.
Indexing is a laborious process. A typical academic work, for example, requires about an hour to index ten pages for a well-experienced professional. Highly technical, more complex works can take longer. However, because the professional indexer focuses on indexing, she has the time the text requires. As a publishing professional, the indexer knows what has gone into creating a manuscript for publication and treats it with the care and the attention it deserves. She takes the time needed to craft an index that is worthy of its text.
Professional indexers use complex software designed specifically for indexing. The learning curve for these complicated programs is steep, but as with most professionally oriented software, there’s good reason: the software’s various functions and utilities, once mastered, make the process smoother and faster and ensure that what could be an overwhelming, haphazard process is instead logical, accurate, thorough, and consistent. Mixed alphabetization, excessive undifferentiated locators, blind and circular cross-references, and poor synonym control are potential mistakes the inexperienced indexer can make. These are avoided by an experienced indexer employing specialized software.