I just created my first index, and while I felt intimidated before starting the project, it turned out to be fun and creative. Indexing is creative in that you choose which words you think need to be in the index, which words people are likely to look up. You also get to choose the subheadings and decide how you want to arrange all these words.
Before starting your first index, I highly recommend reading Nancy C. Mulvany’s book Indexing Books and the entire Indexing chapter of the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. You will go from having scarcely any idea how to index books, to knowing all about it. It’s also good to keep these two books handy while you’re indexing and to double check with them even after you’ve gotten far along with the index.
When I indexed Rethinking Paper and Ink, I read the Word document of the manuscript and, as I went along, picked out any words or phrases that I thought belonged in the index. I copied and pasted them into a new document, in one column. During this process, I put the page numbers after the index terms, and whenever I came across one of the words or phrases on another page, I added that page number. (Ultimately the page numbers would change because the document would be imported to InDesign and get shifted around.) When a potential subheading occurred to me, I put it in parentheses after the page numbers.
After I reached the end of the manuscript, I turned to the document I had created. I put spaces between each index word and began to sort out entries while occasionally looking things up in my two reference books. I took the sections that were in parenthesis and put them in lines below the index word and indented. I capitalized the S in what “See”’s I had written, and changed every “See also” and “See” to italic.
The next step was cutting down the number of page numbers after words followed by more than five numbers. I found the locations in the book and read them in context: what aspect of so-and-so was described on this particular page? Under these circumstances, I was able to make many subheadings.
After not touching the index for several days, I edited it from beginning to end, catching any “See also” that didn’t have a capitalized S and any entry that had more than five locators (page numbers or grouping of page numbers). In some instances, I removed subheadings because fewer than five locators were under the main heading and/or because the subheading indicated a page number that was redundant with a number under the main heading. During a later edit, I thought a few subheadings were simply not necessary, not something anyone was likely to look up, so I deleted them. After looking back over Indexing Books, I took subheadings and also made them main headings, as the book recommended.
Whether or not your index gets formatted in InDesign, it may ultimately be formatted differently than the original version, in which case the page numbers will change. For this index, I came up with numbers in brackets to represent each index term or phrase. I put the bracketed number at the location in the manuscript and after the term or phrase in the index. After the index is reformatted, then you replace the bracketed numbers with the ultimate page numbers and remove the bracketed numbers from the text.