The Society of Indexers

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Taking the plunge! Indexing for the nearly or newly qualified

Workshop tutor: Joan Dearnley

If you are nearing the end of the Training Course (Module D), or you have completed the Practical Indexing Assignment and already gained Accreditation, you will, by now, have acquired a good basic knowledge of indexing. You will also have experienced many months of distance learning, with limited opportunities either to meet your fellow students face-to-face or to talk to a working indexer. This half-day workshop aims to fill that gap and, through practical exercises and group discussion, to offer an opportunity to discuss ways of tackling what for many is their first ‘real’ full-length index. 

The workshop will look at the problems and challenges of indexing a full-length text when space may be limited and deadlines are a consideration. Starting with textual analysis and topic selection and moving on to the formation of headings and arrangement of entries, the session will go on to consider methods of editing the ‘raw’ entries, by reducing strings of locators, slimming down bulky sub-entries, and constructing cross-references. An indexing exercise will be sent to participants in advance of the workshop, and the completed work discussed during the workshop. 

Discussions will be informal and there will be an opportunity to ask questions and to discuss any particular concerns you may have.


Workshops are held regularly in venues around the country; details of forthcoming dates can be found here.

Workshop report

Seven participants, from Module C students to the recently qualified, gathered in advance of the SI Conference at the Royal Agricultural University outside Cirencester for Joan Dearnley's 'Taking the Plunge' workshop. The atmosphere was chatty and collaborative, and the group's various backgrounds and levels of experience, as well as Joan's long-gathered professional wisdom, contributed much.

We'd been sent the first couple of chapters of a book to attempt a rough index to in advance, so came primed with drafts, thoughts and queries. This gave a really useful focus to the middle part of the workshop, when we all discussed our approaches to the text and the most appropriate index entries: a very concrete way of reminding ourselves of the decisions working indexers have to make around identification of substantial concepts in the text, heading formation, and hierarchies and cross-referencing of concepts. The exercise also functioned as a good way of demonstrating and discussing the abilities of indexing software – though the majority of participants had already experimented with programs and settled on a favoured one – as Joan entered and manipulated entries on her projector-linked laptop as we refined them by discussion.

The work on the prepared text was far from all that the workshop covered. For student brains focused on practice texts and tests, many of the issues involved in being a professional indexer are prone to feel abstract, and this afternoon provided a good antidote to that. We discussed the practicalities of working from home, the distinct challenges of longer versus shorter texts, and questions of index length and density. Real-life-based examples of publishers' enquiries and commissions provided material for exercises, and SI's recommended rates sprang to freshly meaningful life as the subjects of practical calculations with regards to quoting for jobs, time management, and attainable annual income.

Further exercises in text analysis and index editing gave valuable food for thought, and Joan provided her own index to the prepared text to take away, as well as following up with a pdf of her PowerPoint slides for reference and review.

All in all, it was a very full afternoon with a good balance of information, exercises and directed discussion, and I think left everyone with more confidence and awareness about both the intricacies of indexing and the business side of 'taking the plunge'.

Philippa Jevons

September 2014
Last updated: 10 October 2014 | Maintained by Webmaster | Page ID: 375
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