The Society of Indexers

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Training in Indexing

A Career in Indexing: why indexers are needed

To find out more about the indexing process and whether this might be the career for you why not take the
Indexing Basics workshop?
There is no substitute for a good index produced by a human indexer who has carefully analysed the text, identified the important concepts, provided links between related, sometimes un-named concepts and allowed for alternative approaches from users. This is a vital component for information retrieval in a text and this applies to both ordinary print and e-versions of texts. Although full text searching is possible in electronic documents this is a very imprecise tool compared to an index which will not only locate specific aspects of a topic, but also provide in its entirety a useful map of the content of the publication.

Whilst many editors continue to seek indexers to produce traditional indexes, some publishers and technical publishing services are beginning to develop linked indexes in ebooks in partnership with indexers using a variety of embedded indexing techniques; and the forthcoming epub3 standard for the epub format includes a new specification for comprehensive indexing. It is not uncommon at present for a book to be ‘born digital’ with print and ebook versions being produced side by side, and users too are sometimes choosing to purchase both print and e-versions of a text. There is the potential for linked indexes to provide added value through more specific text location, automatic displays of linked material or through sophisticated search facilities built on top of the index structure. As the publishing revolution continues there could be new opportunities for indexers to use their skills.

The job of the indexer is to analyse the text of a document so that users can:

  • find information on a particular topic
  • return to passages they remember reading
  • scan the index to see what the document is about
  • find out how particular themes or ideas are developed

And all without having to wade through long strings of page numbers.

Indexing is usually done towards the end of the production schedule, while proofs are being read by the proofreader, but embedded indexing techniques are increasingly being used to enable the indexing process to begin much earlier.

Indexers have to:

  • devise suitable index terms to express the concepts in the text concisely and precisely
  • organize the index so that users can easily find what they are looking for
  • have good knowledge of the subject matter of the document
  • work to a very high standard of accuracy

There are no shortcuts for extracting meaning and significance from the text, for identifying complex concepts, or for recognizing different ways of expressing similar ideas. Computers have of course automated many of the routine indexing tasks, allowing the indexer to concentrate on the intellectually demanding and creative process of analysing the text, devising suitable index terms and organizing the index so that users can easily find what they are looking for. Indexing is much more than merely making an alphabetical lists of words. The information here will give you some idea of what the work entails and help you decide whether you have the aptitude to become an indexer.

Anyone embarking on an indexing career should read Newcomers, a special collection in ebook form of articles from The Indexer. Covering a wide range of topics, from choosing indexing as a career to software, indexing efficiently and negotiating with clients, it also looks at the impact of new technology on the profession.

If you think indexing may be for you, have a go at this questionnaire.

What qualifications and skills do I need to become an indexer?

The Society of Indexers awards its own qualifications, and actively encourages indexers to obtain these, in the interests of maintaining high standards. Becoming qualified is a stepped progression leading ultimately to Fellowship, which is awarded after a rigorous assessment of a candidate’s work.

The Society of Indexers’ online directory, Indexers Available shows that the vast majority of indexers have degree-level qualifications. This should be no surprise: a good general level of education is required to index even the humblest of texts. Furthermore, for specialist areas such as biotechnology or international law, a thorough grounding in the subject is essential and indexers are expected to keep their specialist knowledge up to date.

Indexing is often taken up as a second career (sometimes to fit in with changes in family circumstances or employment situations), frequently drawing on expertise developed in some other field.

Most indexers are self-employed, so they must be:

  • flexible and adaptable
  • reliable, disciplined and self-motivated
  • willing to embrace new technology and update their skills
  • good at negotiaton and establishing working relationships
  • prepared to work unsocial hours to meet urgent deadlines - even the most well-organized indexers will sometimes find themselves working what most people would regard as very unsocial hours
  • able to run a small business successfully
  • resilient enough to cope with the insecurity of an irregular workflow

If you have the organizational ability to cope with the freelance life you can:

  • choose where to live - provided you have a computer and an internet connection, you could be enjoying the peace and  tranquillity of the inland waterways or a vibrant inner-city lifestyle
  • avoid the time and stress of the daily journey to work
  • choose your own working hours
  • decide whether to accept or reject particular jobs

 How do I become an indexer?

The Society of Indexers’ distance-learning course (based on British and International Standard indexing guidelines) gives a thorough grounding in indexing principles and practice and plenty of practice on real documents. It is aimed at:

  • anyone wishing to gain a formal indexing qualification and become a professional indexer
  • anyone needing to extend their indexing knowledge to improve their professional development and career prospects
  • indexers wishing to refresh their indexing skills so that they can re-enter the market

For highly experienced indexers there is an abbreviated testing procedure, based on the SI course. Details available here.

The key features of the 4th edition of the full SI course, launched in 2010, include:


  • start at any time of the year
  • progress at your own speed through the four modules
  • spread the cost - pay for each module when you're ready for it
  • up to four years allowed to complete the course (though many students complete the course in little over a year)

Personal contact and support

  • online tutorials - practice indexing with discussion led by an experienced indexer
  • email discussion list - keep in touch with fellow students on a dedicated email list
  • helpline - access to a course adviser for help on specific problems

Web-based platform offering seamless access to

  • study materials - download each section as you need it
  • practice exercises and quizzes - to help you review your progress and prepare for the assessed tests
  • resources area -  links to a wide range of useful information
  • flexible pricing structure - spread the costs by paying for each element of the course separately
  • flexible timing - progress at your own pace and begin at any time of year

An outline of the course is available here.

What does it cost?

Current prices can be found here. The cost of the course may well be recouped from your first indexing commission. Note that only fully paid-up members of the Society can take the course.

How long does it take to train?

Students progress at their own pace through the four assessed modules, each of which normally takes about 45-50 hours of study. Whilst it is possible to complete the course in as little as one year, many people find that it takes several years, particularly if they are still working full- or part-time. (There is a time limit of four years.) Time must be allowed for participation in three compulsory online tutorials.

How is the course assessed?


At the end of each course module there is a formal test, which you take in your own home. Practice exercises and quizzes on the training website will help you to judge whether you are ready to apply for the formal test, while the  online tutorials give you extra practice and valuable feedback. Attending one of the Society’s workshops will also help you reach the required level.

High standards of accuracy are expected and test papers may be retaken if necessary. There is a time limit for completing each test.

Practical indexing assignment

After passing the four formal tests (A–D), you are required to index a complete book or document of your choice to help prepare you for real-world indexing commissions. Further details are available here.

What qualification do I get?

Professional Membership: Accreditation

On successful completion of the whole course you are awarded the status of Accredited Indexer (AI) and become a Professional Member of the Society of Indexers (MSocInd), which is recognized as the first-stage professional indexing qualification by editors and other clients. It also entitles you to an entry in the Society’s directory, Indexers Available. Once qualified, you may use the title 'Professional Member of the Society of Indexers' as long as you remain a Society member. You are also entitled to use the Professional Member logo on your website and business stationery.

The Society's membership grades reflect both training and experience, from MSocInd through Advanced Professional (MSocInd (Adv)) to Fellow (FSocInd).

What support is available for students?

Students’ email discussion list

A dedicated email discussion list, SI-Student, helps to combat the isolation of distance learning and enables you to exchange experiences with other students and discuss common problems.

SIdeline email discussion list

SIdeline is a general email discussion list for all SI members. Members can subscribe via the website: subscription form.


Students are strongly encouraged to attend workshops while they are studying the course. In addition, online tutorials are now an integral component of the course. Workshops for beginners are held at venues across the country several times a year, and are also suitable for people who aren’t sure whether they want to take up indexing or start the training course.

Is there a CPD programme?

Workshops and conferences

The Society’s workshop and conference programme provides opportunities for continuing professional development for indexers at all stages of their careers. Local groups also run a mixture of social and indexing-related activities.

Getting indexing work

One of the objectives of the Society of Indexers is to raise the profile of indexing and promote the services of its members to publishers and other potential clients. As a newly qualified indexer you will also need to identify a market for your own particular blend of skills and experience. Indexers with specialist knowledge in areas such as law, medicine, finance, and scientific and technological subjects are likely to be in the greatest demand.

How will I get work?

Indexing offers the flexibility of working from home. For many it is part of a portfolio career encompassing other paid employment or freelance activities such as editorial work, or provides a means of income which fits round other commitments. A degree of entrepreneurial skill will, over time, enable you to build up a solid client-base, and for some this may provide the potential to develop a more full-time career in indexing..

Successful completion of an indexing course carries no guarantee that you will become a successful freelance indexer. However, a number of strategies will help you secure that all-important first job.

  • Directory entries — in Indexers Available, the Society’s online directory of qualified indexers. As soon as you are qualified you are entitled to take an entry, which will pay for itself with little more than an hour's work. Through our regular mailings and our publicity materials, many publishers and other organizations commissioning indexers are reminded to consult the directory whenever they need an indexer.
  • Market research —  to find out which publishers are relevant to your subject areas and how to contact them
  • Patience and perseverance — to contact a large number of potential clients and not be discouraged by a low level of response.
  • Confidence — in your ability to produce a good quality index.
  • Reliability — to make sure you produce good quality indexes on time.
  • Networking — to keep in touch with other indexers through local groups and email discussion lists to find out about indexing opportunities.
  • Personal skills — to establish and maintain good working relationships with clients.
  • Availability — especially when others may be on holiday.

Members may download free of charge resources on setting up as a freelance indexer and obtaining work.

How long does it take to get established?

Success breeds success and your first indexing commission may well lead to further work from the same client. But you should be prepared (at least initially) for an uneven work flow.  Patience, persistence and professionalism are essential qualities for the new indexer. A survey of recently qualified indexers showed that typically it can take up to two years to get established, although half had received their first job within three months.  Most indexers build up their indexing business before giving up full-time employment, which offers security, but can mean that urgent deadlines affect your personal life.

Can I work part-time? 

Two-thirds of the respondents to the survey of newly qualified indexers reported that they were working part-time. Many people combine indexing with related activities such as copy-editing and proofreading, which gives greater variety and may help to even out the flow of work. However, to combine indexing with another regular job or the demands of caring for young children or elderly relatives requires a high level of organization, as publishers’ schedules are normally very tight.  

SI Members can access the full results of the survey here (member login required)

How much can I earn?

Indexing fees are negotiated between the indexer and the client. Indexing fees vary considerably but the Society's suggested rates may be used as basis for negotiation. These are rates that can be achieved by experienced indexers, but not necessarily those earned by newly qualified indexers. A novice indexer will also work more slowly, resulting in a lower hourly rate, but as you gain indexing experience you will be in a stronger position to achieve (or exceed) the SI published rates.

Once you have recouped the initial costs of training and equipment (usually through your first few indexing commissions), your outgoings will be relatively low, but you will have to make provision for such things as income tax and pension contributions, and you will need a ‘cushion’ to allow for the irregular flow of work. As a self-employed indexer, you will also have the advantage of being able to offset some of your costs against tax.

What equipment will I need?

To work as an indexer you need to set aside a room or part of a room as a home office.

Computer and broadband

A computer and a broadband connection are both essential and you should have a reasonably level of computer literacy (and know where to turn for help when things go wrong). Clients expect indexes to be supplied in electronic form and it is common for proofs to be supplied as PDF files by email or downloaded from a website.

Although work is frequently offered by email, an answerphone or voicemail are also essential items for the freelancer.


Specialized indexing software automates routine processes, allowing indexers to concentrate on the intellectual tasks of content and wording. Software is regularly advertised in the Society’s newsletter, SIdelights, and the international journal, The Indexer, and demo versions can be downloaded from software developers’ websites.

Reference sources

Although the Internet is an indispensable reference source, but you will also need to build up a collection of  reference books. relevant to your specialist subjects.

What are the benefits of joining the Society of Indexers?

By joining the Society of Indexers you will become part of a group of fellow professionals who are working towards raising awareness of indexes and the profession of indexing. Experienced members are generous with their support and encouragement for new entrants and you will find the networking opportunities invaluable. There is range of membership benefits for both new and experienced indexers.

Where can I read more about indexing?

In addition to exploring this website, you may like to look at some of the following resources.


Pat Booth, Indexing: the manual of good practice, K.G. Saur, 2001.

Written by a distinguished UK indexer and trainer, this is a comprehensive manual for the new indexer, and source of reference and revision for the experienced practitioner.

Glenda Browne and Jon Jermey, The indexing companion, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Maureen MacGlashan (editor), Newcomers, 2012. (A special collection in ebook form of articles from The Indexer.)

Nancy C. Mulvany, Indexing books, 2nd edn, University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Hans H. Wellisch, Indexing from A to Z, H.W. Wilson, 1995.

Occasional Papers on Indexing

Occasional Papers on Indexing, published by the Society of Indexers, are all available at a discount to SI members:

  • Hazel Bell, Indexing biographies and other stories of human lives, 3rd edn, 2004.
  • Geraldine Beare, Indexing newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, 1999.
  • K.G.B. Bakewell and Paula L. Williams, Indexing children’s books, 2000.


The Indexer (4 issues a year; free to SI members) — produced by the Society of Indexers on behalf of the international indexing community, this carries a wide range of practical and theoretical articles. Back issues (older than two years) are freely available on the journal's website The Indexer

SIdelights (4 issues a year; free to SI members) — full of useful information, the SI newsletter keeps members informed about SI activities and developments in indexing.



Last updated: 01 November 2016 | Maintained by | Page ID: 164
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