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Chapter 22. Creating Effective Indexes > Constructing a Good Index

Constructing a Good Index

There are a number of things you can do to ensure that you create an index that readers will use. Think of the various indexes you’ve used in the past—no doubt some were better than others. Some seemed to lack all the main topics you were looking for, or they seemed disorganized. Here are some characteristics you should be sure to check in the indexes you create:

  • Usability An index is first and foremost a reader service. Make sure that you’ve included all major topics and that you’ve thought through the alternative ways readers might be looking for those topics. Include topics, subtopics, and references to other topics for related information (for example, “See Parenting teens”).

  • Readability Using terms your readers will recognize—whether or not they’re familiar with the content of your document—is important. If you’re unsure about the various ways a reader might reference a certain topic, ask around. Talk to others on your team or in your department to make sure you’ve used words and phrases that will be easily understood.

  • Cross-references Cross-references in an index refer readers to other topics where they’ll find more information. For example, a listing with a subentry that sends others to the section on Needs assessment might look like this:

    								Feasibility studies, 3-10
         Creating audience surveys, 3-4. See Needs assessment
         Hosting focus groups, 4-6
         Tabulating results, 6-8
    
  • Logical structure One mistake new indexers often make is to include every importantsounding word—plus the kitchen sink. You’ll help your readers find what they are looking for if you think carefully through your index. Which topics are most important? How many different ways might a reader refer to them? What are the words that will be searched for most often?


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