OP1: Indexing biographies

Hazel K. Bell, Indexing biographies and other stories of human lives, 4th edn (Society of Indexers Occasional Paper 1)

ISBN: 978-1-789-62162-4; 112 pp

The fourth edition (February 2020) can be ordered direct from Liverpool University Press. There is a discount code available for members which is in the members’ benefits section of this website.

Stories of human lives can be fascinating but frequently difficult to index well. The new, updated fourth edition of Hazel K. Bell’s Indexing Biographies is a valuable guide to the points for consideration when indexing life histories, biographies, autobiographies, letters and other narrative texts.

Topics include the indexing of fiction, analysis of the text before indexing, names and their various forms, appropriate language choice for index entries, impartiality of the indexer, and how to treat main characters (through appropriate subheading structure) and minor characters (where strings of locators are sometimes unavoidable).

The book also discusses more technical matters of index layout, presentation and arrangement of entries, such as how to judge whether alphabetical, chronological, page order or thematic grouping is most appropriate for the text.

Examples of good practice and outstanding indexes are provided throughout. Lists of useful reference works and relevant articles from The Indexer journal are also suggested. There is, of course, a comprehensive index.

Indexing Biographies contains fine advice on best indexing practices for book indexers, trainee indexers, authors, publishers and all lovers of life histories. It is an excellent overview of the complex, important and rewarding task of indexing such material.

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 earlier 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)