Computers can create indexes, right?

If computers can create indexes, then why hire an indexer?

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, of course! A computer can create an index, but not a very good one. A computer-generated index is called a concordance—a collection of words and their found instances in a book.

What is a concordance?

In his book Index, History of An, Dennis Duncan gives an example of a concordance. An excellent index created by a real person (Paula Clarke Bain) follows immediately after the concordance. If you have a chance to pick up the book, I recommend starting with its index. Paula presents the material with a bit of cheeky humor. If you want to learn about the collaboration between Dennis and Paula, this Tiny Type podcast episode is a great listen!

So, what exactly does an indexer do that a computer can’t do?

As a professional book indexer, I’m really good at helping identify what information people want (and most of my peers are similarly gifted). Once I do that, I set about creating a map so they can find what they need.

I’m always thinking about you, the reader. As I work through the book analyzing its contents, I ask myself:

  • What kind of words will you look up?
  • What concepts or ideas draw you to this book?
  • How can I lay out the contents of the book in a logical and concise way so that both the person who’s read the book and the person who hasn’t can find what they’re looking for?

And finally, I analyze the book, looking for concepts that were discussed but not necessarily named, ideas that are implied but not specified—something a computer software program (or AI) won’t do.

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