Procedure for Indexing

I. General Remarks

The index should be started as soon as the author or freelance indexer receives the first installment of page proof. Indexing should continue with each successive installment; within ten days after receipt of the last installment of pages, the index should be alphabetized and typed. (Because the time allocated for indexing is so short, authors are strongly urged to begin preliminary indexing before the page proof stage: circle significant words and discussions in a copy of the manuscript; separate the important from the not so important.)

For indexing, use the duplicate copy of page proof. Transfer from the printer's set any corrections that might affect the index. (Please let your production contact know if you find any important corrections while indexing.) Then read each page carefully, with the following criteria in mind:

  1. What is the most significant word in each discussion?
  2. What information is the reader likely to look up, and under which word or phrase?

The principal subdivisions of an index are the entry and the subentry. An entry should be a noun or substantive. Exception is made, however, when a well-known compound term begins with an adjective (e.g., Real estate). An adjective standing alone is not a suitable entry. Alphabetize subentries according to the first principal word, ignoring prepositions, articles, and conjunctions. Use the word for which most readers are likely to search, usually a noun. For example:  

                connecting to a child's life
            Connecting reading to a child's life
Front matter sections, appendixes, tables, illustrations, and bibliographies (or parts thereof) are usually not indexed. If the names of more than 100 persons are indexed, a separate Author Index may be required. (Check with your series editor if there are any questions about what sort of index is needed.) Footnotes are indexed only if they supply information not in the text on the same page. The roman letter "n" after a page number indicates a footnote.  
II. Index Entry Preparation

Circle items in page proof that should be indexed. Transfer index items and page number to 3 x 5 inch cards, make notes in page proof of entries and subentries to be used, or create an entry in a word-processing file if you are using a computer. Use a separate card or entry for each entry and subentry; repeat the entry at the top of the card for each subentry. If you plan to use your word processor to alphabetize your entries, be sure you use the system to create the entries in such a way that your particular software will alphabetize without disconnecting the subentries from the main entries. Capitalize the first word of each entry; all other words should be lower case unless they require capitalization for other reasons. Two typical cards might look as follows:

    complex, 203
    complex, 203
    polar, 206
    polar, 206

If you are using index cards, there are two ways of arranging the index cards in alphabetical order. The first is to keep them in page-number order until the indexer has gone through all the page proof. Cards are then alphabetized at one time. Duplicate entries and synonymous terms are eliminated, and all page numbers for a given entry are listed on one card. The second way is to alphabetize the cards as they are written, eliminating subentries by transferring them to entry cards. Inexperienced indexers are strongly advised to use the first method because it minimizes error.


Cards should be alphabetized letter by letter, not word by word.

Letter by Letter
New Hampshire
New York
Word by Word
New Hampshire
New York

Alphabetize items beginning with a number or Greek letter as if they were spelled out (e.g., "400 Club" falls under F and "\[pi symbol\] orbital" under P). Exception: In chemical terms a prefixed symbol is disregarded.

2-Methylpropenoic acid, 644, 804
Methyl n-propyl ketone, 764
Methyl n-propylmalonic ester, 903
3-Methylpyridine, 1056

Names beginning with Mc or St. or Mt. should be alphabetized as if they were spelled Mac or Saint or Mount. Names beginning with contractions like L' or O' are alphabetized as solid words. Abbreviations of organizations (e.g., UNESCO, ILGWU) are alphabetized according to the letters in the abbreviation, not as if they were spelled out.

Check the Chicago Manual of Style for alphabetization of foreign names. For instance,

    Tocqueville, de
    de Tocqueville

III. Style

A preposition is used to show the relationship between the subentry and the entry.

Reflections, 532
    defects in, 534
    phase change on, 546
    of plane wave, 535
    of spherical wave, 537

Note that prepositions are disregarded in alphabetizing subentries. Use the preposition instead of the possessive case. (Of course, there are exceptions: Newton's laws of motion, not Laws of motion of Newton.)

Page references should be given in numerical order (28, 45-52, 73) and in full (182-193, not 182-93). If the entry has no page number it is set on a separate line, followed by a colon. If an entry is not followed by a page number and has only one subentry, combine the two into one entry on one line. (Entries unmodified by subentries should not be followed by an extensive series of page numbers.) The first subentry is set on the next line, indented one step. Sub-subentries are indented one step further. It is seldom necessary to go beyond the level of sub-subentry except in highly technical books.

    air, 163-168
        defined, 163
    atmospheric, 157
Options, stock, 373 Behavioral elements, 227-244
    biogenic, 228
    psychological, 229-233
        models of, 230-232

The abbreviations "f.," "ff.," and "et seq." should not be used in an index; "passim," which means "here and there," indicates scattered references in a series of pages and should be used sparingly.


There are two types of cross-references, see and see also; both are set in lower case italic in parentheses. To refer the reader from an entry that is not used to one that is used, use the see reference. Run it in without giving page numbers. The entry cross-referenced should appear in place exactly as it does in the cross-reference.

Medical insurance (see Health insurance)
Use a separate entry rather than a see cross-reference for brief entries that would take the same amount of space or less than the cross-reference:

      Exceptional learners, 48-50
      Special-needs students, 48-50
      Special-needs students (see Exceptional learners)

To refer the reader to additional information, use the see also form. Run it after the entry or subentry to which it refers.

Stock (see also Investments):
     averages, (303-310)
     blue chip, 324, 326, 327n
     corporation, 298-301 (see also Dividends)

IV. Index Manuscript Preparation

After the entries have been alphabetized, the index should be typed or output, double-spaced throughout, in a single column on 8-1/2 by 11 inch paper. Submit a word processor disk with the file on it along with a hard copy. Subordination of items is shown by indention. Use two typewriter spaces for each step of indention.

V. Index revision for new edition

Usually an index for a new edition is completely reset. Authors should follow the instructions above rather than attempt to delete old entries, add new entries, and check new page numbers. Such an attempt opens the door to frustration and error, even when few changes have been made in the new edition.

Back to: Preparing Your First Edition