OP1: Indexing biographies

Hazel K. Bell, Indexing biographies and other stories of human lives, 3rd edn (Society of Indexers Occasional Paper 1)

ISBN: 1 871577 29 2; vi + 106 pp

This title is out of print but the third edition (2004) can be ordered direct from Lulu.

Books dealing with human lives — be they history, biography, autobiography (including diaries), letters or fiction — can be difficult to index. Precisely defined concepts from a thesaurus cannot be used, and the indexer often has to make subjective judgements as to the choice of language for index entries. Topics discussed include:

  • whether fiction should be indexed
  • examples of outstanding indexes
  • analysing the text before starting to index
  • dealing with names
  • avoiding bias
  • the merits of different arrangements (alphabetical, chronological, page-order and theme-by-theme
  • how best to deal with the ‘mighty main character’ who may be mentioned on most pages and whose main entry can become overloaded with subheadings
  • and, conversely, what to do about minor mentions (why strings of undifferentiated page numbers are sometimes unavoidable in narrative indexing)
  • the importance of presentation and layout.

The book ends with the advice that we need to tread softly on people’s lives, be sensitive, subtle, flexible and diligent and use common sense: a heavy responsibility but a fascinating one.

Nearly three times the length of the first edition, Indexing biographies has a new section on indexing letters, and fuller treatment of many of the other topics with extra examples from recent indexes. The chapter on printed reference works is organised into categories. Display boxes throughout the book give references to relevant articles from The Indexer. New to this edition is the appendix, ‘Using the Internet’ by Noeline Bridge. There is, of course, a comprehensive index.

The author

Hazel K. Bell is an experienced indexer, particularly of biographies, and a Fellow of the Society of Indexers. She was editor of The Indexer, from 1978 to 1995, has written many articles on indexing and related topics, and edited Indexers and indexes in fact and fiction (British Library/University of Toronto Press, 2001). In 1997 she was presented with the Carey Award for services to indexing. She won the Wheatley Medal for an outstanding index in 2005 for her index to Seven Pillars of Wisdom: The Complete 1922 Oxford Text, by T.E. Lawrence (publisher J. & N. Wilson), and also in 2006 for her index to Mythologies by W.B. Yeats, edited by Warwick Gould and Deirdre Toomey (publisher Palgrave Macmillan).


These extracts include reviews of the first and second editions of Indexing biographies and other stories of human lives

  • A joy to read and enjoyable to use … both invaluable and delightful (American Society of Indexers Newsletter)
  • An informative, well written guide, which does much to clarify the mysteries of narrative indexing.(Aslib Information)
  • The reader’s attention is never lost … The relatively short time taken to read through this volume will certainly be time well spent. (Catalogue & Index)
  • … a valuable source of reference … It is excellent value and I highly recommend it. (Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders Newsletter)
  • A most useful compilation of the state of knowledge on indexing biographies, which … is useful for indexers of academic books in many disciplines … It is recommended for every indexer’s library (Australian Society of Indexers Newsletter)
  • A thorough discussion of the problems inherent in biographical material … A “must read” for anyone who is working in that genre … a pleasure to read. (IASC/SCAD Bulletin)
  • This is such a refreshing book! Bell’s approach to narrative indexing is flexible, subtle, interpretive, and respectful, qualities to which all indexers should aspire. (Do Mi Stauber, in The Indexer, October 2004)
  • … reflects many of her insights and innovative work with indexing novels. She brings to all of her articles and books a clear and witty intelligence, an impressive mastery of indexing skills, and a lifetime of reading. (Dave Prout, in Key Words, Jan/March 2005)
  • Informative and thought-provoking — and surprisingly entertaining. (John Edmondson, in LOGOS, March 2004)
  • … a personable guide for professional indexers on how to raise their craft to the level of art. … a pleasing blend of sensibility, encouragement, and fun, with a dash of philosophy thrown in. (Carrie Pedersen, in Journal of Scholarly Publishing, April 2005)