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Finding the words: how to write index entries

Workshop tutor: Ann Hudson

‘The best heading is concise, comprehensible, unambiguous, and fitting to the topic and context. It should be as long as it needs to be, but no longer than is necessary.’
(Pat F. Booth, Indexing: the manual of good practice)

All indexers should agree with this; but how do we define, for example, ‘concise’ or ‘as long as it needs to be’? Does the length and level of complexity of the text make a difference to how we write entries? What is the function of subheadings, and how and when should they be used? How much should we include prepositions and conjunctions, and should they be ignored in filing order? Can an index entry ever start with an adjective? When should we use inversion?

We will explore all these topics, and more, with the help of discussions and practical exercises. The workshop is suitable for indexers at all levels, from students to experienced indexers in search of a refresher course.

Workshop report

(SI Keele conference, September 2011)

Attendance was good for this very useful session, in which Ann worked through a list of problematical areas. About a third of those present were beginners, a third were experienced, and the remaining third were somewhere inbetween.

Such matters as how far to follow the style of the text, whether key words should be plural or singular, how specific or general headings should be, how and when to use inversion, how much detail to include, and many more aspects, were explored and discussed, with plenty of interesting examples.

We did some questions on paper and compared notes about prepositions and conjunctions, and the definite article.

We all benefited from each other's inputs and from Ann's excellent presentation. Thank you Ann, and, as we all agreed, user-friendliness plus observation of current usage are the key aspects of choosing the right words.

Shirley May

Last updated: 20 September 2011 | Maintained by Webmaster | Page ID: 382
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