Is the Index Any Good? - Training Course Review

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On Saturday 28 February, the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI) held the first in a series of planned short indexing courses. Held at the CAE in the city, Indexing for Editors/Indexing for Indexers attracted a good number of editors and indexers keen to update their skills and benefit from the expertise of the trainers, Max McMaster and Mary Russell. In fact, Max told participants that he had created more than 2,000 indexes. 

After a brief introduction and guidelines about what to look for when assessing an index, the course got off to a flying start with a hands-on exercise. Participants chose books from a selection ranging from web design to the history of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The books provided an opportunity to canvass and share a range of issues when designing an index. Tips for assessing an index included such things as determining the expected readers, reviewing the features that one expects to be indexed, checking that headings are in alphabetical order and that they make good sense, and seeing whether cross-references go to their targets. Another good test is to take an entry in the index at random and to check that it goes to the page number indicated.

Participants shared some wonderful bloopers including, for example, a lengthy index where all the indentations for sub-headings had been elided when laid out, resulting in a massive, dense, left-aligned text. Some indexes presented other problems such as meaningless headings. For example, what is the reader to make of a heading such as Hansel and Gretel, when the book is about web design?

In the second hands-on exercise, course participants were issued with the same book, Robert Hughes' 1970 classic, The History of Australian Art. This book provoked much discussion. For example, while there was a comprehensive index of artists' names and their works, the history of art and art styles, which comprised a large part of the book, had not been indexed at all.

The workshop also canvassed such issues as quoting, deadlines, working to space constraints, toning down language (the terms used in the index need not be identical to what was published in the text), and even rejecting a commission if the subject turned out to be against one's personal values. More short courses are planned.

Maryna Mews