The Society of Indexers

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Annual Conference 2011, Keele

Index-Linked Futures

2nd - 4th September 2011 

Keele University, Staffordshire ST5 5BG

Twitter hashtag #soi11


Indexers’ euphemisms
Professor John Sutherland

John Sutherland opened the 2011 SI conference by talking about the treatment of personal information in the indexes to biographies.

He cited examples from alternative biographies of the same person where aspects of their private life, often of a very sensitive nature, had been dealt with quite differently between author-produced and professionally-produced indexes. Often it seemed that the author was so closely involved with the text that he felt the index should be an extension of it in tone and terminology, resulting in insensitive and unhelpful index entries. The professional indexer was able to take a more neutral tone by focusing on the terms the reader would look for in the index rather than the more ‘colourful’ (sensationalist) suggestions in the text, at the same time remaining respectful of the text.

Adele Furbank

Publishing revolutions: how this could affect indexers
Nic Gibson, Corbas Consulting

The first plenary session at Keele conference was by Nic Gibson of Corbas Consulting who set out for us how much more difficult indexing may become, or not exist at all in the future, owing to emerging technologies and the new forms of books (how would you index a book on Kindle?).

In short, it’s the digitisation of the publishing industry for which indexers need to be prepared. We will no longer be dealing with traditional paper-centric publications, but content-centric ones in which the content of the book has to be represented, not the format of it. In content-driven publishing, page breaks are not important and content is marked up with elements, closing tags, opening tags. Mark-up language is the new word, and XML is the new mark-up language.

Among other things, XML is the enabler for multi-format publishing. Publishers are outsourcing more and more, witness the number of books that go to India and China, and the fast way the publishing industry is developing out there. One possible side effect of that is the number of non-native speakers involved, from which native English-speakers might benefit. However, as several publishers are now saying they won’t have indexes in their e-books, we as indexers have to make ourselves familiar with what is going on if we want to stay in work. So keep yourselves aware, go on courses, learn XML, improve your digital skills, and join digital publishing and information systems organisations such as the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) or the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). We have to prove that we can still provide something that a machine can’t provide.

Rosemary Anderson

Accelerated reading
Paul Hobbs, The Thinking Consultancy

The main argument of Paul Hobbs’ talk was that contrary to what we might think, increased reading speed actually increases comprehension. He used various experiments to demonstrate how we could increase our reading efficiency and speed. There was plenty of ‘audience participation’ in this session. We started in pairs, watching the other person’s eye movements whilst performing a series of tasks. This was to demonstrate how we waste time by slavishly following the exact line of text on a page. Other mini-experiments included: reading to a metronome, and to music of differing rhythm and tempo. A volunteer read using different coloured transparencies, a technique used to help people with dyslexia.

Easily the most memorable demonstration was an exercise in visualisation. After looking at a page of text we were asked to imagine first holding, then smelling a lemon. Then, placing the ‘lemon’ on our heads, we looked at the text again, which appeared much clearer. The idea was that active visualisation during reading resulted in better clarity and understanding of the text.

Lastly, Paul addressed our individual learning habits. Before the conference we had been given a questionnaire considering whether we learnt by visual, audible or kinaesthetic cues. Completing the questions provided food for thought; learning in different ways to suit the individual seems like a good idea. They were quite ambiguous, however, and the results were never fully discussed. I am fairly sure that different sorts of learners do not breathe from different parts of their lungs as it states in the descriptions, but maybe this is because my results indicate I am an ‘Audio Digital’ learner, and therefore very sceptical.

Paul Hobbs was a very enthusiastic and effective speaker. If we can take nothing else away from this very entertaining session we could learn something from his amazing ability to sell his subject.

Jody Ineson

Finding the words: how to write index entries
Ann Hudson

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 in between.

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

Indexing biographies and other life writings
Christopher Phipps

Christopher Phipps started off the session by saying that while ‘there is no single right way, there are many wrong ways’ of indexing biographies. The purpose of a good index, he continued, is to ‘add value’ to the biography, to ‘make it a better book’ by providing an additional structure that will enable readers to get a sense of what is covered and how before they read the book. A good index becomes an integral part of the book – ‘invaluable and invisible’.

Christopher then focused on ways of approaching the indexing of people, beginning with the eponymous hero/heroine – a case, he argued, where, as a rule, it is good indexing practice to give the metatopic its own entry, thus providing readers with a quick, easily accessible synopsis of the life. As the metatopic entry is bound to be lengthy, it is necessary to divide it in categories which are likely to include: a potted biography (in chronological order and not necessarily introduced by a category heading); attributes/personal traits; relationships to other characters; opinions; works (if relevant). These categories and the wording used to introduce them will vary slightly depending on the nature of the life examined, but the headings chosen should always be visually distinctive (small capitals usually work well).

‘Lead supporting actors’ – Christopher’s second type of people, e.g. family members, colleagues and friends – often merit ‘miniature versions’ of the metatopic entry, while ‘secondary players’ are likely to be given much shorter subdivided entries. ‘Walk-on parts’ are not important enough for subheadings but important enough to justify breaking a couple of indexing rules, namely that indexes should not contain strings of more than five to seven locators and that passing mentions should not be indexed – to quote Christopher, in biographies passing mentions of people have to be ‘terribly passing for not to pass’. The fifth and last type of people is the ‘expert witnesses’ when, for example in the case of Boswell, the book (Life of Johnson) is more important than the person.

Christopher also spoke about his working methods, revealing, in particular, that he decides how the index is going to be structured very early on and consequently spends very little time on editing at the end of the indexing process. He also gave some useful tips, in particular, how PDF can be used to check straightaway how often a new ‘character’ is going to crop up so the structure of the entry can be established as soon as possible (no point in spending time formulating subheadings for ‘walk-on parts’, for instance).

It was a very enjoyable and lively session with much discussion taking place between Christopher and his audience. Among the issues debated, in particular, was the nature of the categories to be used under the metatopic entry and what to call them – it was suggested that a ‘quotations’ category could be very useful, too; the importance and ways of making sure that the index reflects the tone of the book accurately; the best ways of indexing personal names – as fully as possible, Christopher argued, for added value.

Marie-Pierre Evans

Getting online: how to build a template-based business website
Jan Worrall

I have often thought it might be a good idea to set up my own Indexing website, but as a ‘non-techie’ have been more than a little apprehensive about my ability to do so. Jan Worrall’s ‘Getting Online’ workshop offers the opportunity for the non-techie indexer to learn how to set up and maintain a website within the safety of a guided, step-by-step session. In advance of the workshop, Jan had set up a basic, template-based site for each participant, containing headings and pages in each individual’s choice of colour. This allowed time during the session to concentrate on adding content (text and images, prepared beforehand by participants), making links, finding out about design features, and learning how to edit and update information. Metadata and the use of keywords, publicising the website and achieving hits, and finally user statistics and dedicated domain names were explained and discussed.

For me, at least, Jan’s workshop has gone a long way towards demystifying the technicalities of building a simple website, and is one which I would recommend to all the SI Local Groups. For those still not sure about the value of a business website, launching your own site offers: easily accessible details of your indexing services; an expansion of the information available in your IA entry; a useful addition to your email signatures; and the provision of additional information on networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Joan Dearnley

Jane Read

Jane's workshop had the subtitle 'A Meeting of Minds?' and she opened the workshop by offering some definitions of negotiation which included discussion and conferring in order to come to a compromise and/or agreement.

We looked at what each party has to offer the other – the client is the one with the money, but they may also offer you prestige on your CV, and an interesting project. The indexer has professional and specialist subject knowledge, and also should know what rate they are willing to work for. When it comes to compromise, it’s important to know what areas can be conceded and what the dealbreakers are. This is not always about payment; it also includes having to work unsocial hours to meet an unrealistic deadline, or indexing a subject which is either outside your field, or not very interesting. Jane gave advice on how to succeed during telephone negotiations, as this is far harder than when using email. Role play in pairs helped the group to see the different factors at work.

Apart from winning the work, other areas where negotiation can be useful is when dealing with late payment and when communicating with authors about their requirements. We shared tips and resources for dealing with these situations. Jane also gave some useful ideas for practising negotiation outside of indexing. Jane then gave a dramatisation of how not to negotiate, performed by herself and Janet Reed, which provided an entertaining end to a valuable workshop.

On a personal note, I can say I put some of her advice into action on immediate return from the conference, and successfully negotiated a higher rate for a project.

Ruth Ellis

Indicators before indices: navigating the text in the manuscript book
Professor Michelle Brown, School of Advanced Study, University of London

This lecture was presented by the Professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the Institute of English Studies, University of London, who works extensively with the British Library and is Co-founder of the Research Centre for Illuminated Manuscript Studies at the Courtauld Institute, London. Her objective was to analyse and illustrate the range of devices evolved to provide keys to the retrieval or correlation of information contained in early manuscripts, from a period long before the advent of ‘modern’ indexes.

The codex, or book format, began to be adopted around the fourth century AD and progressively supplanted the use of scrolls. The new format brought with it new demands (and new opportunities) for presenting and navigating the text. Sections of text could be divided by colophons, a term originally denoting the ‘contents labels’ of scrolls. Forms of word separation were introduced, essentially the precursors of punctuation. Gradually, a rich variety of illuminated initials, letter forms, display scripts and other symbols came into use to delineate sections of text or to act as ‘key words’ to capture attention. Through elaborate pictorial representation, illuminated features could become what were essentially visual abstracts. In other cases, marginal illustrations were used to chronicle events or sequences referred to in the text, or to provide an additional visual (and sometimes vernacular) commentary. At the same time, texts came to incorporate and to reference other materials, such as calendars or glossaries or information about saints or feast days. Quite often, further material was added by other hands decades or even centuries later.

The lecture was beautifully illustrated with examples drawn from both well-known manuscripts (for example, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Psalter of St Columba) and other, less well-known sources. They amply demonstrated the range of artistry and ingenuity displayed in manuscript books.

Nick Walton

Experienced indexers’ discussion
Moira Greenhalgh

At the start of this session, Moira Greenhalgh pointed out that this was not going to be a grumpy old indexers discussion; the aim was to have a constructive discussion of indexing issues. All participants were divided over four tables and were presented with four questions. Each question could be discussed for ten minutes, before the next question would arrive. At the end of the session there was a short time available to present the results of each discussion and compare the results of the different tables. Moira has promised to publish a comprehensive overview of the results of the discussion in SIdelights; nevertheless here is a very brief overview of what we discussed:

Question 1: Your niece wants to start a career in indexing, what advice can you give her?
Among the advice given: Do the test on the SI website; do the first module of the course; go to an introductory workshop.

Question 2: Do indexing qualifications matter?
Answers: Yes, it does give credibility; the new terminology is more in line with other professions; publishers sort of know what the qualifications are about even if they do not know the details; it would be good to have a worldwide recognised training system.

Question 3: Editors tend to come and go, how do you keep up a good indexer–editor relationship?
Answers: social networks; Indexers Available; visits if possible; phone is preferable over email; don’t be too timid.

Question 4: You want to slow down, but not retire: how do you do it?
Answers: Just say no to some assignments (even it might mean that you lose a client); work together with another (more junior) indexer and pass on work (local groups are important in this respect); hide your Indexers Available entry or limit the subjects in your entry to those that really interest you; don’t compete on price.

Caroline Diepeveen

Working with authors
Moyra Forrest, Michelle Brown

It was clear from Moyra’s introduction that the word ‘with’ is key to the author–indexer relationship. The ideal time for first contact is as soon as the indexer is engaged. Edinburgh University Press, for instance, asks for early contact to be made between author and indexer.

It is important to let the author know that the index will add value to the book. It is also important to listen to the author and recognise that the book is the author’s ‘baby’, but that the indexer can make an important contribution. The author needs to see the indexer as the book’s audience, with the index created from the user’s point of view.

Michelle confirmed that contact with the indexer is important to authors, and that they want to see good indexes for their books. There is now pressure on academic authors to write in XML, despite this being a very different process from that to which they have been accustomed.

The new research assessment exercise involves assessing publications, and this will inevitably involve using indexes. Indexers should stress the importance of a good index in this context. There was discussion of the inclusion of comprehensive citations in the index, so important to academics.

There was also discussion of different experiences of working with authors, and of when to refer to the editor or ask for author contact. The role of the editor as ‘buffer zone’ between indexer and author in sometimes more difficult situations was also mentioned. Sometimes indexers prefer not to deal with authors.

The overall message was that, despite some problems, author contact is to be desired and should be sought early on, so that the best possible index may be produced.

Jane Coulter

Emerging technologies
Bill Johncocks, James Lamb, Maureen MacGlashan

The session consisted of three short presentations followed by a panel discussion. The first presentation, by Bill Johncocks, gave a brief review of the differences between embedded indexing, XML markup language and tagged indexing and described their respective advantages and disadvantages. The second presentation, by James Lamb, demonstrated the use of the WordEmbed program to simplify the process of embedded indexing. The third presentation, by Maureen MacGlashan, described the process of tagged indexing as used by such companies as CUP, OUP and Elsevier.

The panel consisted of the three speakers, plus Nic Gibson, Jan Ross and Pierke Bosschieter.

Useful advice for indexers thinking of entering the area included the following gems:

• be wary of agreeing to learn new skills for what might only be a one-off commission
• be aware that expertise in one system does not translate into expertise in another
• don’t waste time arguing with the publishers if they already know what they want (however illogical)
• the desk editors may not know much about how the index is generated – if in doubt, ask to speak to one of their  IT people.

There is as yet no sign of standardisation between different publishers, and methods are being driven not by them but by the software companies. The Society of Indexers should try to open a dialogue with these companies, who would probably welcome our expertise if they were aware of our existence. We should also be seeking input into the international standardization bodies.

Cath Topliff

History of Indexing
Janet Reed

A small but distinguished group (including John Sutherland and Michelle Brown) gathered to hear Janet Reed’s talk on her recently completed research into the history of indexing. This covered the history of indexes in printed books and complemented Michelle’s earlier plenary session on precursors to indexes in manuscripts very well.

The most striking aspect to me was how little things have changed – as Janet presented her findings it became clear that indexers have rarely been identified; even though we know that Henry Wheatley compiled indexes to a number of books we don’t know for sure which ones he was responsible for. As his Index Society folded through lack of funds, it is clear that the difficulties of gaining fair payment for indexing work are not new either.

An interesting presentation was followed by a stimulating and wide-ranging discussion that moved from the past to the future of indexing and ended by considering the questions raised by Nic Gibson’s presentation on electronic publishing. Those of us who attended hoping for a respite from speculation about the future may have been disappointed, but I enjoyed the chance to discuss these questions in a small but well-informed group. And after nine years as a member of the Society I was finally inspired to read Henry Wheatley’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography…!

Jane Read

Student peer review
Jan Worrall

The student peer review session was an excellent opportunity for trainees to get immediate feedback on their work.

Jan mailed out the text five weeks before the conference to give us plenty of time to index it. This was accompanied by fairly detailed guidelines on the length and layout of the index required. The text was made up of a series of six fact sheets entitled ‘Aspects of British Postal History’. We were asked to make copies for each attendee, and bring them with the text to the conference.

The group was a small one, so we exchanged indexes and spent some time reading through other trainees’ choices and comparing them with our own. Then Jan handed out a sheet of six discussion questions and we worked the discussion round them.

As ever, the first salient point was to identify possible users, in order to construct an efficient index for their needs. Next, we looked at the treatment of names. Here the discussion ranged round the relative importance of people’s names, place names and company names. Particularly we looked at place names: places where research and trialling were done, distribution centres established, new designs of pillar boxes appeared, or new uniform designs were introduced. We discussed the difficulties of indexing all the information on uniforms, which covered a lot of detail, spanning three centuries in only four pages. Then we moved on to the difficulties of keeping the index to the 120–150 entries allowed, and the criteria used to make these decisions. Finally, we compared our use of subheadings and discussed the importance of direct entry, and the risks of over-analysis. Short spans do not need analysis.

Jan handed out her own index part way through the review, once we had absorbed each other’s handling of the topics. The general discussion ranged over cross references vs. double posting, the use of a publisher’s website to identify the target audience, the use of LinkedIn to identify commissioning editors by name and its usefulness as a marketing tool (we trainees think ahead).

All in all it was a fascinating opportunity to see how other trainees had dealt with problems one had agonised over oneself, and then to see Jan’s handling of them.

Linda JR Clark

Experienced peer review
Barbara Hird

We had a very interesting local history chapter to index posing a number of problems about which indexers often have to make difficult decisions. Like so many indexing questions, the answers often start with ‘It depends...’, but a few points were a bit more cut and dried.

Names always seem to be one of the main points of discussion when indexers get together. Saints’ names should be shown as Chad, St whereas St Chad’s Church should be listed as St Chad, filed as Saint. The text was about pre-Norman Lancashire and there was some debate over how to deal with the many similar sounding place names within the county and when and where the use of a qualifier would be appropriate. How to index kings and nobility was discussed. It is helpful to include qualifiers such as dates or kingdoms; for early periods such as Anglo-Saxon this may involve some research. For a text of this kind, explanatory notes attached to the index can be useful; again this may need some research on the indexer’s part.

There was discussion about synonyms used by the author. Do they actually mean something different or is the author just trying not to use the same term throughout the book? This highlighted the importance of the indexer knowing something about the subject they’re working on!

It was a very useful session and we all came away – no matter how much experience we already had – with a few new pointers on how we can improve our indexes.

Pam Scholefield

The visual appeal of indexes: an exploration
Frances Lennie, Indexing Research

How does the appearance of an index affect its usability? There are elements that are under the indexer's control and elements that the indexer cannot control.

Under the indexer’s control are: main headings – construction and wording of; subheadings – e.g. use of prepositions, number of levels; formatting – indented (set-out) or run-in layout and text styling and capitalization. Capitalizing the first letter of main headings (always done in the US) can affect usability. Ideally concepts should be in lower case.

Elements beyond the indexer’s control are:
• Client guidelines – use these only as a starting point and suggest changes if necessary. Frances provided two versions of her index – one in ‘their’ style and one in ‘hers’.
• Layout: indenting, line spacing and type font/size – typesetters sometimes believe the index should be in the same format as the main text. All sorts of things can go wrong, for instance ‘outdenting’. Also, if the spacing between lines is too long the index becomes harder to scan.
• The use of ‘continued’ lines – seems to be discontinued.
• In-house editorial changes – these sort of changes can affect usability e.g. removal of alpha headers or spaces between alphabetical sections; changing layout from indented to run-in style in an attempt to shorten the index.
• Use of colour – some cookery book indexes use colour. This can be helpful if it adds information to the index.
• Right-justification of locators – apparently user surveys reveal that readers prefer this. Sometimes it’s warranted e.g. in complex legal books that have very long headings.

Finally, Frances talked about web indexes. She showed various different styles.

Frances left us with the question: Can an index be both workable and winsome?

Sophia Clapham


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