How to Write an Index for a Book in Seven Steps

How to Write an Index for a Book in Seven Steps
The idea of a book index may sound archaic in the era of smartphones and eBooks. Despite this, many readers and scholars still use book indexes to guide them through enormous books and support their studies. Professional book indexers do the crucial task of indexing books on a regular basis.

It's one of those book sections that, until you need it, is easily overlooked despite how beneficial it is. If you've ever needed to look something up in a book, you understand how useful an index can be.

The last thing you want is for your readers to go through your index and not locate something that was categorized and plainly needed to be labelled, or worse, something that was placed in the wrong location. Although it only makes up a small portion of the book, it is frequently used, so you should take your time and complete it correctly.

What Exactly Is a Book Index?

An index at the back of a book is a list of terms and page references that directs readers to specific themes throughout the text. Subjects are often listed alphabetically in indexes, with subheadings following complex subjects that recur frequently in a book. In the majority of non-fiction research works, book indexes can be found alongside components like the front matter and table of contents. Indexes are frequently contracted out to independent contractors who may be technical writers or have other positions in the publishing sector. Unified standards for indexing books and technical writing are promoted by the American Society for Indexing, a national trade association.

What Function Does a Book Index Serve?

A good index should, first and foremost, aid readers in locating themes in a book's primary text as well as provide a list of any related terms. A complete and understandable index is essential. Professional indexers are adept at creating thorough indexes that are simple for both researchers and casual readers to use.

Creating an Index

It takes a lot of work to be a book indexer, so you should be detail-oriented. Even though creating a whole index can be difficult, all you really need is a word processor and a strong work ethic. Indie authors and self-publishers have the option of creating indexes for their own books. Here is a step-by-step manual that can help you understand the indexing procedure if you're just starting out as an indexer:

1. Read the book first. The first step might seem obvious, but reading a book thoroughly before beginning the indexing process is crucial. Even if you've only skimmed the book before, you should still read it cover to cover as you index.

2. Make use of indexing tools. On simple word processors, there are numerous excellent indexing software tools available. If you're new to indexing, it may be a good idea to use indexing software to streamline the procedure.

3. Highlight the book. Whether you are reading a hard copy, an ebook, or a pdf, you must annotate the text as you search for important terms and potential section headings. On index cards or in a computer document, mark all the themes you intend to include in the index and make note of any entries that are identical.

4. Address concerns about formatting. Make a decision regarding the format of cross-references and page numbers before beginning the actual index entries. You can learn about other styles and determine what you prefer by looking at other indices and conversing with colleagues. A formatting and layout guide, like the one in the Chicago Manual of Style, is frequently included.

5. Add entries to an index. It's time to create your index once you've read the main text several times and made several notes of your primary headings and subheadings. Make sure you are using a consistent style and that your final index includes all you have noted in your text.

6. Sort the entries in your index. Make sure your entries are arranged alphabetically because all indexes are sorted that way.

7. Edit your index. When you've finished writing the initial draft of your index, it's time to undertake some copyediting. Verify that your subentries and subheadings are unique and that you haven't omitted anything before submitting your final index.


Although it may seem like an afterthought as you're writing your book, your readers will frequently turn to the index again and again. Every person who reads your book in the future will be grateful for the effort put into organizing everything so that they may refer to it whenever they need to look something up.

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