"An index is not an outline, nor is it a concordance. It's an intelligently compiled list of topics covered in the work, prepared with the reader's needs in mind," says the American Society for Indexing's Index Evaluation Checklist.
To get started indexing, study the Chicago Manual of Style on indexing, read Nancy Mulvany's book, Indexing Books (second edition), and get trained online through the American Society for Indexing (in America) or the Society of Indexers (in the UK). Get started by specializing in a niche, a special area you are knowledgeable in. Join at least one editorial or indexers' listserv as you'll want a place to ask peers questions about problems that come up. You can find most of the information you need initially through the links below.
A few articles make the case to writers and publishers for using professional indexers rather than a computer program to prepare a good index, :
• Human or computer produced indexes? Why have a human-produced index where full text searching is available? (Society of Indexers)
• Book Indexing, Part 1: Is a Computer the Right Person for the Job? An article by Carol Saller explaining that "indexers harvest concepts as much as words." (Chronicle of Higher Education 5-1-12).
• Book Indexing, Part 2: Infinite Loops and Easter Eggs (Carol Saller, Chronicle of Higher Education, 5-9-12). How indexers have fun. (Part 3 is due out any minute.)
• Every nonfiction book needs an index: Here's why (Alan Rinzler, The Book Deal)
• Editors, How Much Is an Index Worth to You? (how indexes are valued by bookstore buyers, educators and institutions, librarians, reviewers, your production staff, your typesetter, and why they should be done by professional indexers)
People have lots of questions about indexes and indexing. You can find some answers to yours here:
• BBC Radio 4 "Front Row" program on indexing (11-11-03, listen to recording)
• FAQs about indexing (American Society for Indexing, so with an American slant)
• FAQs about indexes and indexers (Society of Indexers, so expect a British angle)
• Indexing software, about (American Society for Indexing)
• How to Contract with a Book Indexer (Dan Connolly, Word for Word Book Services, gives some idea of time needed and range of fees for various types of books)
• Indexer's Style Guide: Some Things to Think About (Cynthia Berman, BAEF,
• The definite article: acknowledging ‘The’ in index entries, Glenda Browne's article in The Indexer on the many ways "the" causes problems for those who try to put things into alphabetical order.
• ASI training course (available to members of American Society for Indexing)
• Training in indexing distance-learning course (Society of Indexers, UK)
And yes, there are Awards recognizing excellence in indexing (Society of Indexers links)
Here are some organizations and sites and one journal for indexers:
• American Society for Indexing (formerly American Society of Indexers, ASI)
• Indexing Society of Canada (Société canadienne d'indexation). Resources include links to indexing discussion groups.
• Society of Indexers ( (UK)
• Association of Freelance Editors Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI) (Ireland)
• The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing
Some discussion groups:
• Online Discussion Groups (ASI's thorough links to and descriptions of various indexing groups)
• Indexer's Discussion Group (IDG, formerly formerly Indexer's Discussion List at Yahoogroups))
• Index Cafe Yahoo group
• Indexer's Network (LinkedIn group for indexers)
And yes, there are sites devoted to index humor:
• Indexers' humor (site hosted by Leverage Technologies, which sells Cindex indexing software)
• Index, America's Funniest, Back of Atlantic Monthly (Peter Carlson, Washington Post, 3-1-05)
• An Index for Thalia (PDF, Julian Barnes' index as a humorous extension to his book Letters from London 1990-1995, posted on The Indexer website)
• Amusing Index entries (on Futility Closet, An idler's miscellany of compendious amusements)
• The Games Played in Pale Fire's Index (anarchy is hyperbole, to be read only if you have read Nabokov's book)