On my desk

Picking low-hanging fruit

19 April 2024

I have an equestrian book on my desk right now—a panoramic history of the horse. The author details how the domestication of the horse changed the world, from transportation and imperialism to agriculture. It’s a big book, but the space for the index is limited. And since the author writes with broad, sweeping strokes about expansive topics, I mirror his approach rather than filling the index with minute details. After all, this book doesn’t painstakingly chronicle every known stage in the evolution of the horse species but rather provides a general overview of how the horse evolved from the tiny dawn horse to the single-toed horse of today. Similar broad strokes are employed for the other topics: transportation, agriculture, and empire-building. I find that working on this style of this book is a good reminder of how to approach low-hanging fruit when it comes to indexing.

Low-hanging fruit has been defined by Do Mi Stauber in her book Facing the Text as topics that are always added to the index—such as authors and titles of children’s books in a children’s literature textbook or companies for a company index in a business book. But it is easy to conflate this definition with the misplaced idea of “indexing every proper noun.” Note Stauber’s definition of low-hanging fruit. She includes the type of book when giving an example of low-hanging fruit.

What is considered low-hanging fruit in one book might not be indexable in another. And length restraints are a good reminder to an indexer that defining what constitutes low-hanging fruit should be re-established for every indexing project to ensure that the space allotted to the index contains only relevant names and concepts.