Commissioning an indexer (Part 2)

Posted on: 17/03/2023

The indexing process: before, during and afterwards

Image of table and hands. Both people are holding a pen. The one on the right is making notes

In our first post in this series, we looked at finding and booking an indexer. In this second post of three, Tanya Izzard takes you through the indexing process.

What does your indexer need from you?

You’ve booked your indexer and are waiting for the work to take place. What do you need to do before it can start?

Firstly, you’ll need to specify the style of index required in terms of layout, capitalisation and punctuation. Most publishers will have a standard house style that they provide to the indexer. This will also include information about the file format required, how to deal with non-verbal content like figures and tables, and preferences for use of subheadings.

You’ll also need to confirm the length of the index. There isn’t a fixed standard length for indexes; publishers will normally specify the amount of space available and indexers are trained to work around that. The length does need to be defined before work starts, though; the space available influences our decision-making during the indexing process.

How to communicate all this? Most publishers have a guide to the indexing process that can be shared. It’s fine to do all this by email, although if you prefer a live conversation, phone and online meetings are always possible.

Although some publishers will suggest it is useful, it’s not necessary for authors to provide a suggested list of headings with the manuscript or proofs for indexing.

Remember to advise your indexer of any changes to the schedule that will affect the time available for indexing, and to confirm the delivery date for the index too.  Some indexers prefer to capture all this information in a separate contract; an example of such a contract is available from the SI website.

Submitting your manuscript/proofs

A standard index is compiled from page proofs. Ideally, these will be final page proofs but some publishers will use uncorrected proofs, with proofreading being done at the same time as indexing. You’ll need to advise your indexer on the status of the proofs and check with them whether they are happy to work from a PDF copy – some indexers prefer paper proofs.

Embedded indexes are most frequently created in the Word manuscript or InDesign files of the book, depending on the publisher’s workflow. You’ll want to make sure that the indexer is provided with the latest, most correct version of the files for indexing.

Your indexer will check the proofs/manuscript on receipt and will let you know if there are any obvious problems at this stage. A major issue (for example, a missing illustration in a set of page proofs) that takes time to resolve may mean the indexing deadline needs to be revised.

During indexing, you probably won’t hear much from your indexer. We will contact you with any major queries, and will also keep you posted during the indexing process of any problems or potential delays to the due date.

So what are we doing as we index? Indexers approach their work in various ways but all of us will do some version of the following:

  • read the book carefully – yes, all of it and often several times
  • identify significant concepts and terms for inclusion, considering the needs of readers
  • compile the index using specialist indexing software
  • edit the index, organising the entries and index structure to improve useability
  • use double entry or cross-references to ensure the information is accessible

Receiving your index

Your indexer will send you back a copy of your index in the format specified.  For a standard index from page proofs, this will be a Word or .rtf file. They may also give you a PDF of the index in two-column layout, which will show the correct indentations and any special characters – this is helpful for the typesetter who will finalise the index in the proofs.

For an embedded index, you will receive the Word or InDesign files with the index codes embedded and a generated index. Our next blog post will discuss reviewing the index in more detail.


It ought to go without saying that invoices should be paid promptly, but sadly this is not the case. If you pay your indexers promptly, they are more likely to want to work for you again in the future.

If you need to find an indexer, head to the Directory to find the right person for your job. You can also read in more detail about the commissioning process in our guidance note.

About Tanya Izzard

Tanya Izzard indexes scholarly and trade books in the humanities, producing standard and embedded indexes for authors and publishers. She has been indexing full-time since 2017 and is an Advanced Professional Member of SI and the Marketing Director on the SI Executive Board.

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