Indexing: a guide for academic authors

Congratulations: your proposal has been accepted and you’ve done the hard work needed to write your book.  Before it’s published, however, your book is going to need an index.

Anyone who’s done a research degree knows how important a useful index can be – and how frustrating a poor one is.  A good index provides a map of your book, with multiple access points for readers with different needs and interests.  It will make your book – and your research – more accessible to readers, and can even increase sales, especially to libraries. For more on the value a professional index will add to your book, see indexer Melanie Gee’s blog post.

In this short guide I will explain when and how indexing takes place, discuss the advantages of working with a professional indexer, and provide some useful links to information that can help you through the indexing process.  You may also want to read fellow indexer Paula Clarke Bain’s excellent guide to the process for the general author.

1: Indexing in the publishing process

Indexing is carried out during the later stages of the publication schedule.  Your publisher should provide you with an indicative schedule to explain when indexing should take place.  The precise timing depends on the type of index required, and there are three main possibilities:

    • traditional back-of-book index, complied from the PDF proofs of your book: these indexes are normally created at the very end of the publishing process, at the same time as proofreading. Copy-editing and formatting, and any changes required during that process, will all have been completed; any figures or illustrations will be in place and the page numbers will be fixed.  A fast turnaround is often required, with indexing and proofreading to be completed within a month or less.
    • embedded index, compiled by adding codes to a Word document which can be used to generate the index. This is normally done after copy-editing but before typesetting; the codes in Word are used by the typesetter to generate the index once the final layout is confirmed.  Embedded indexing can save time in the publication process and is particularly useful for books that may need to be published in revised editions, or which will be simultaneously published as ebooks.  You may get a slightly longer period of time to complete an embedded index.
    • indexing to paragraph numbers for future embedding.  In this system, the index is compiled using paragraph numbers from early-stage proofs, rather than page numbers.  Again, this is done earlier in the publication process after copy-editing but before typesetting.  The index will be embedded into the text during typesetting, and the final index will show the page numbers automatically. In some subject areas, indexing to paragraph numbers is standard, but is done from final page proofs, and the paragraph numbers are given in the index rather than page numbers.

Some publishers will still fund the index themselves, or give you the option to have the cost deducted from royalties. In this case, your editor will arrange for an indexer to work on your book.  You are likely to be asked to review the index; this is covered in section 4 below.  However, increasingly, publishers ask the authors of monographs (and volume editors, for edited collections) to organise indexing themselves.  If you are asked to do this, you have the option of working with a professional indexer, or creating the index yourself.

Although there are automated systems that can help with the indexing process, automated indexes generated from document searches are not really indexes at all – they don’t include the vital component of human analysis that decides whether a topic should be in the index, and how to represent it.  Searching cannot identify implicit mentions – a book I indexed recently, for example, discussed various wars without using the standard historical name for each one, and I needed to check the correct names for use in the index.  Similarly, searching cannot easily identify synonyms or distinguish between homonyms.   Searching will also bring up all references, including repetitions and passing mentions which do not include any meaningful information about the term or concepts.

2: Working with a professional indexer

Professional indexers will read your book carefully, identify the indexable terms and concepts, and create an index that anticipates the needs of your readers so that they can access your ideas and research quickly and easily.  We use specialist software to organise the index, to ensure it is consistent and that it meets the presentation requirements of your publisher. We have a wide range of subject expertise and are often very highly qualified.

In the UK, the Society of Indexers has a directory of members that you can search by subject area and type of index: see  If your book is being published by a US publisher, you may want to use a US indexer.  See the American Society for Indexing:  There are also professional indexing societies in Ireland  (, Canada (,  Australia and New Zealand (,  Germany (,  Netherlands ( and South Africa (

As well as these sources, you could consult colleagues for recommendations, or find out who has recently indexed similar books in your subject area from the indexing societies’ professional directories.  If you need to submit an embedded index, make sure you approach indexers who have experience of this way of working – the Society of Indexers Directory allows you to search for this particular skill. Do get several quotes, and don’t be shy about asking for references from previous clients.

When you’ve found some likely candidates to work on your book, it’s best to contact them as soon as you have an indicative schedule.  We do get booked up with work and it can be hard to accommodate last-minute requests.  We are used to dealing with slipping schedules, however, so don’t worry if there are delays to your book beyond your control.  When you’ve chosen your indexer, let any others who quoted for the work know that you won’t be using them.

How much will it cost?  The UK Society of Indexers suggests recommended minimum rates: in 2024, these are £3.55 per page or £9.55 per 1000 words .  A 60,000 word monograph, for example, would cost around £570 to index at these rates.  More advanced or experienced indexers may charge a higher fee, and you might be quoted a higher fee for a last-minute job, for a particularly complex text, or for an embedded index.  Indexing can seem expensive, but consider the time and stress you will save and the eventual quality of your index.

If you are working at a university, it’s worth checking whether there is any funding available to help with the cost of indexing.  I’ve indexed many books for academic authors, including early career researchers, where the cost has been covered by their institution.  Most indexers will invoice you after completion, although you may be asked to pay part of the fee in advance. If you are bidding for funding for a project that will result in a book, remember to include the cost of indexing in your bid – then you’ll have the funds to pay for it when your project is concluding. And if you have budget to use up before the indexing work needs to be done, you can ask your indexer to invoice in advance.

Embedded indexing in Word is particularly fiddly and time-consuming.  Indexers use specialist add-ons to connect Word to our indexing software to do this work, which does make it easier.  As an indexer, I would obviously recommend using a professional for any index – but especially if you have to produce an embedded index.

3: Going it alone

If you decide to index your book yourself, there are a number of sources of help and guidance out there.  Give yourself plenty of time, especially towards the end of your schedule when you’ll need to check and edit your index.  Based on the UK recommended hourly rate, a professional indexer would take around 18 hours to index a 60,000 word monograph; I was a lot slower than that when I started out and would still be much slower without indexing software.  I’d expect a beginner, without the benefit of specialist software, to take about twice as long. Never index when you’re tired, and remember that most of us can only do about 4 hours of intense work a day – and indexing is definitely intense work.  Paula Clarke Bain has written an excellent account of the indexing process for CIEP, which gives helpful insight into how indexing is done.

It’s better and easier to start at the beginning and work through your book, rather than making a list of keywords and searching for them.  The keyword approach can seem quicker, but you may miss implicit discussion of key topics and be tempted to add passing mentions; it’s also a very boring task. A mind map of the book’s main topics is often helpful, though. You may find it useful to edit after each chapter, and remember that it’s easier to take something out than to go back and put it in. Follow your publisher’s guidelines to the letter, especially in relation to the number of pages available for the index.  If you send back an index that’s too long, they’ll probably just ask you to reduce it.

As well as your publisher’s guidelines, you might want to look at the following books and short courses (most of the online courses come at a cost, your library may well stock the books):

One of the risks of going it alone is that you may find that you really enjoy indexing and want to do more of it.  The indexing societies listed above can all provide advice on further training and accreditation, if you discover you’re an indexer at heart.

4: Reviewing the index

Whoever writes your index, as the author you will need to review it.  When you receive it, you should consider the following questions:

    • Are all the main concepts and topics represented in the index?
    • Are the words used for the index entries clear? Will they make sense to my readers?
    • Are there long strings of page references, or long page spans, that have not been broken up with appropriate subheadings?
    • Do the cross-references make sense?
    • Are the page numbers accurate? It’s worth spot-checking to make sure.

Further guidance on index reviewing is available:

If you are unsure about any aspect of your index, and you’ve used a professional, do contact them about it.  We’re best placed to resolve the problem quickly and will be happy to help.

However you decide to deal with your index, good luck with the indexing and with your book.

SfEP and Society of Indexers conferences, September 2018

This year the SfEP and SI conferences were co-located at the University of Lancaster, and organised so that it was possible to go to most of both, with a joint gala dinner in the middle. I’ve been to two previous SI conferences but this was my first SfEP event – it was good to be able to get the benefit of both in one trip.

The SfEP conference began on Sunday with Lynne Murphy’s keynote on the different attitudes to grammar rules in the US and UK. Lynne is Professor of Linguistics at Sussex, born in the US but living in the UK since 2000, so well placed to consider this. In a very entertaining talk, Lynne highlighted some of the key differences: what I took away was that the US approach to grammar is much more based on a codified set of rules, whereas in the UK our rules are unspoken, learned by osmosis and class-related – we learn to speak and write correctly by knowing the right people, rather than through education. In America, however, learning the rules of grammar and writing is a formal, explicit part of education at school and university. Inevitably, this leads to differences in editing styles. Anecdotal evidence from Lynne’s colleagues suggests that UK editors work more from the ‘feel’ of a text and change less than their US counterparts do. Lynne’s publisher would have been proud of the graceful way in which she plugged her new book, The Prodigal Tongue (Oneworld, 2018): I really want to read this, but in the meantime have been enjoying Lynne’s blog, Separated by a Common Language.

My next session was with Alison Hughes, a freelance translator whose workshop looked at building a freelance business through networking and generally engaging with people. Alison was very frank about how a sudden dip in incoming work had led her to re-evaluate her approaches to finding it; making small changes might not yield a direct quantifiable return but did help build her reputation and increase her clients’ trust in her. The first suggested activity – go alone to local events (preferably free ones) relevant to your specialism or subject area and participate – is an attractive one. Events where you might meet fellow industry professionals or potential clients are ideal, and these can be found through local universities, Eventbrite and Groupon – a place I would not have thought of looking – as well as through industry-specific bodies. It’s not necessary or desirable to market yourself aggressively, but you can mention what you do – and it’s useful to have an address book of colleagues you can recommend for work you can’t do, and to pass on your business card. Alison also talked about using social media to develop your business – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and your own blog all allow you to connect with potential clients and build relationships with them. I particularly noted her advice on LinkedIn: ensure your specialisms are included in your job title, and use your profile to tell a story rather than as your online CV. We also discussed doing work for no fee: Alison suggested trying to get something in exchange, like published credit, an invitation to a related event or promotion at it, and considering how long it would take – a freebie that takes an hour but would give you various marketing opportunities might be worth it; a six-month all-consuming project, probably not. Alison’s key message was, whatever approach you take to marketing, that you should engage – this will build your confidence along with your reputation.

Paul Beverley‘s short session on using macros in editing was fun and interesting and I’ll definitely be exploring his e-book and macro pack before my next editing job. Paul explained and demonstrated some key macros, and showed us you they fit into two groups: analytical macros, which give you information about how words are used and formed, and can help construct a stylesheet; and change macros which can correct repeated problems or errors with a few keystrokes. Paul’s overarching theme was that macros take the dull legwork out of editing and allow you to concentrate on the enjoyable bits – and they can also speed up your workflow. Paul has an extensive YouTube channel with lots of videos showing how to make best use of his macros.

After a short break, it was time for the SI conference to start. Professor Tony McElroy’s keynote on the Corpus Linguistics project at Lancaster was fascinating. This computer-assisted language analysis project shows trends and tendencies in normal language usage. Volunteers’ daily speech is recorded, transcribed and then evaluated and can reveal unexpected things that, as daily language users, we don’t notice. Tony’s example was the word “cause” which, as noun or verb, almost always has a negative connotation – we don’t say “that caused me to win a free holiday” – but definitions of the word do not necessarily reflect this. The project is computer-assisted because while computer data analysis is quicker and more reliable, human input is still necessary to understand language context. There is a free online course based on the project at

The gala dinner was a grand affair in Lancaster’s Great Hall. I was delighted to join the Linnets, the scratch choir, for a short performance before dinner, and slightly appalled to discover part-way through dinner that I’d be receiving my certificate of commendation for the Betty Moys award from Sam Leith during his after-dinner speech. I’d vaguely assumed this would be happening quietly at the SI AGM. I managed to get up and collect it without tripping over, however. Sam Leith gave an excellent speech and we were well looked after by the catering staff.

On Monday, I attended an excellent session run by Ruth Ellis on client relationship management. Ruth encouraged us to think systematically about how we communicate with our customers, to streamline our admin and save ourselves time, and how to ensure we get paid. Thinking about the needs of different types of clients, the information and advice they might need, and developing standard approaches to this can help secure clients and retain them. Ruth also discussed disaster recovery plans – not just ensuring you have good backup systems, but making sure you have a disaster buddy. This should be someone who knows what you’re working on and how to contact them if, for any reason, you’re suddenly unable to complete your work. Inevitably the discussion turned to generating more work, and we discussed up- and cross-selling of other services, searching for forthcoming publications on Amazon and contacting editors about the index, and asking satisfied clients – especially authors – to recommend you to their colleagues. Ruth mentioned that she scores her work and clients according to a number of factors that she particularly values, to help her decide between projects and whether to accept future work, which is an interesting idea. I came away from this workshop with a list of things to do to my email templates and a resolution not to be so coy about asking for recommendations and testimonials.

The joint SI/SfEP keynote was from Kathryn Munt, CEO of the Publishing Training Centre. Kathryn gave a rather sobering account of outsourcing in UK publishing and its impact on the availability of work, workflow and process, and payment rates. There was a sharp intake of breath in the room when she explained that a well-known UK publisher had outsourced all its activities apart from brand management – including commissioning and developmental editing – to a partner company, effectively making that company a publisher in all but name.. Kathryn’s slide on publishing industry expectations of freelancers – including flexibility, willingness to learn new skills, and to work in partnership with publishers and outsourcers – don’t, as Anna Nicholson (@axnicho) points out in her tweet, necessarily mesh well with the actual skills of editors, proofreaders or indexers.

The final SI event was a really clear and helpful talk on indexing in the context of digital publication and e-books by Jan Worrall and Paula Clarke Bain. I’ve had XML explained to me before but never so clearly, and the explanation of how various indexing tools like WordEmbed, IndexManager and  IndexLinker can (and sometimes don’t) work for digital texts was incredibly useful. Jan is working to make this talk into an online SI workshop, which will be an excellent development.

Lancaster was a good place for the conference – it’s a nice campus and the train from London was quick – although the drop in temperature was a bit of a shock to a soft Southerner. I enjoyed both conferences, although wasn’t really prepared for the sheer force of numbers at the SfEP conference; the main building for the SfEP got crowded quickly, especially at meals and breaks.  But it was good to meet other editors as I try to develop that aspect of my work, including some Sussex-based SfEP members who encouraged me to come along to the next local group meeting, and I always enjoy talking to other indexers. After such a stimulating couple of days, I was grateful that I’d planned a few days of solo walking in the Lakes where I could process and decompress – and refine my list of post-conference jobs to something a little more manageable.

The Conscientious Objector’s Wife edited by Kate Macdonald

About this book
The Conscientious Objector’s Wife (Handheld Press, 2018) is an edited collection of the letters between Frank and Lucy Sunderland, a working-class couple from Letchworth in Hertfordshire.  Frank was imprisoned in 1916 when conscription was extended to include men of his age.  As an ‘absolutist’ conscientious objector, he refused both to serve in the Army and to undertake alternative service – agricultural labour, hospital or clerical work, or in industry – on the grounds that it would commit another man to military service.  Frank remained in prison until 1919 and the letters between the couple give a remarkable insight into working-class lives during the First World War.
Frank and Lucy are socialists, keen self-improvers and autodidacts, attracted to self-sufficiency, feminism and vegetarianism.  In Letchworth, with its large population of Quakers, free-thinkers and left-wingers, they found a supportive community that would help Lucy hugely throughout Frank’s imprisonment. This support was vital, as she took over Frank’s work as an insurance agent to keep up the family’s income, as well as doing sewing work, running her home and caring for her three young children.  Lucy’s letters give a vivid picture of domestic life during wartime: the gradual increase of rationing and shortages; the impact of refugees and the war industry  – Letchworth accommodated many Belgian refugees and was also a centre for munitions work;  and of the struggle to maintain a happy home.  Frank’s letters, often mindful of the eyes of the censor, can be more abstract and say relatively little about the material conditions in prison, but are greatly revealing of the psychological costs of his long imprisonment.  Both Frank and Lucy are entirely committed to pacifist principles and their mutual commitment to this and to each other is a very moving theme of the book.  They are both good writers: Frank can be very funny although some of his jokes need work, and Lucy’s escape for a few months to rural Devon is captured in bursts of rather lyrical nature writing that express her relief at being away in the country and the restorative effect it has.  The final chapter, when the war has ended but Frank remains in prison (an additional, punitive government policy to ensure released COs did not get the pick of post-war jobs) was very tense: would he ever get home?
The letters have been published by Handheld Press, and edited by the Press’s Director, Kate Macdonald. Kate is a scholar of literature and history who has written extensively about the First World War, and provides an extremely useful introduction setting out the context of these letters and giving background information about Frank and Lucy.
Approaching the index
Collected letters can be challenging to index.  There is no particular structure – this book is arranged into chapters, but they are used to break the letters up chronologically.  Content and subjects can be highly diverse.  There is no particular organised narrative, and the letters themselves may well include obscure references or be highly allusive.  This problem is intensified because these particular letters were subject to censor scrutiny; Frank often includes in his letters a phrase like “You understand why I cannot write more about this”, indicating both his awareness of the censor and the elision of more explicit writing.
Having read the book and made a rather complicated mind-map, I also read Marian Aird’s very useful account of her work on the Britten-Pears correspondence (‘”Your letters have been life and breath to me’: the challenge of indexing My beloved man’, The Indexer 34:4, 2016 pp138-143, subscription/fee required), Douglas Matthews’s ‘Indexing Published Letters’ (The Indexer 22.3, 2001 pp135-141, free to access) and Hazel Bell’s Indexing Biographies (Society of Indexers, 2004)  which includes some guidance on letters.  Kate Macdonald’s introduction to the letters draws out key themes, and the marketing material for the book was very useful in terms of thinking of likely readers: local historians, family historians, historians of the First World War, people interested in Quakers and non-conformist religions, historians of working-class lives.  I also bore in mind histories of the emotions (like Clare Langhamer’s work on love) and the current cultural interest in accounts of the everyday; while Lucy’s circumstances are unusual, she still has the daily round of working, shopping, cooking and dealing with domestic irritants like a blocked drain.
Writing the index
The names and personal information were the principal challenges of this index.  Because of the likely users of the book, and mindful of Marian Aird’s advice on names, I decided that all full personal names would be indexed, and that all significant mentions of placenames would also be included.  Some names presented difficulty in terms of distinguishing who was being discussed.  I had rather an ordeal with the Palmer family, who appear frequently in the letters but are often described only as Mr Palmer.  Working out which Mr Palmer was meant required a careful reading of the text.  I included some people who were only mentioned by first name where they were significant players in the narrative, for example Lucy’s Belgian lodger Leonie, whose surname is never mentioned.  The footnotes were helpful in distinguishing identities when the letters, naturally, use only first names; I included locators for the notes to ensure the additional information here was accessible to the index user.
I wanted to make full, detailed entries for both Frank and Lucy, but these could not easily take the form of similar entries in a biography, because so much of the detail was missing.  For Lucy, for example, the letters contain lot of short but significant references to aspects of her life such as her work with the Letchworth Adult School.  I realised early on that I would need sub-subheadings to give enough detail and make the index useable, but there were, inevitably, still some long strings.  I wanted to make sure that all her visits to Frank were indexed, for example, so a long string of undifferentiated locators followed that particular subheading.  I could have broken these up a little with details of the locations of the prisons – Frank was held in a number of different places – but I wasn’t convinced that would add a lot of value.  The long string shows how often, throughout their separation, Lucy found time to visit Frank in prison. Emotions, ideas, religion and political opinions also found a place as subheadings for both Frank and Lucy’s index entries.
Health and illness were a frequent topic of discussion in the letters.  Frank, Lucy and all the children had a subheading for this topic, with sub-subheadings to collect locators on the nature of their illnesses.  I also included a main heading for health and illness, with specific illnesses included as subheadings.  A few specific illnesses – like the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 – had such extensive discussion that I included them as main headings in their own right.
As an indexer I have to guard against my tendency to categorise and classify, rather than presenting headings in a more direct form.  Prisons and religions were categories occupying a lot of space in the index.  Each prison and religion mentioned had its own main heading, but I also had a main heading for “prison” that included subheadings for individual prisons as well as categories such as food, visiting and sentences.  After a lot of thought, I decided against this approach for religion, mainly for reasons of space; instead, I made use of see also references to connect various religious topics together.
Term selection for some concepts was a challenge.  For both Lucy and Frank, the beauty of the natural world was central to their sense of well-being, and both write about this a lot, most likely as a way to bring some joy and happiness to each other in their difficult circumstances;  Lucy’s letters from Barnstaple overflow with her pleasure at the lovely countryside and the sea.  This is a significant subject in the book, but I worked for a while on the best way to express this in index headings.  I ended up with main headings for birdsong, flowers, landscape, the sea and walking, which were then double-entered as subheadings under the main heading “nature and environment”.  I also used “nature and environment, importance of” as a subheading for each of Lucy and Frank’s main headings.
Lessons learned
I enjoyed working on this book immensely, despite its challenges – it’s extremely interesting, entertaining and moving, and indexing is such a good way to get under the skin of a book you really like.  It was also definitely useful in developing my indexing skills, particularly in constructing a useful index out of a text with such diverse contents, characters and themes, and without the usual overarching argument of a non-fiction book.  I also made use of the Sky acronyms function for the first time, to help me deal with all the various similar names, and the Megabit Macros were invaluable when dealing with the huge range of personal names in the text.

Tove Jansson at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Last month I was lucky enough to visit the Tove Jansson exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery.  Even on a cold Thursday afternoon in January, the Gallery was crowded, which gives some idea of the extraordinary popularity of this artist and writer.  Anyone who loved the Moomins in childhood would probably be drawn to an exhibition of her work; the current British fashion and fascination for all things Scandinavian is probably expanding her audience.  Ethnically and linguistically Swedish, but born and raised in Finland, Jansson is positioned interestingly on the borders of Scandanavia – but her work and writing definitely speaks to us of her origins in the far north.

Tove Jansson, Lynx Boa (Self-Portrait), 1974. From, © Moomin Characters™

Tove Jansson was an extraordinarily wide-ranging artist, producing works in oils, illustrations, the vast world of Moomin in both book and comic-strip form,  novels and short stories.  The exhibition started with her early works in oils, including a number of self-portraits and the famous, uneasy portrait of her whole family together, Tove poised in black at the centre of the group.   A room of paintings from her later career followed, including some beautiful interiors which have affinities with the work of Vanessa Bell, also shown at Dulwich in 2017.  My favourite piece in this room was a semi-abstract seascape called “Westering”, haunting and beautiful.  Her  paintings strongly evoke dynamic motion and have a great deal of texture.   In a still life of vegetables (fennel and onions) the tension between straight lines and curves gives these everyday objects a considerable dramatic quality.  These paintings are quite large in scale, and the contrast with the next room was marked.

This  room was devoted to Jansson’s illustrations for the work of other authors, particularly Alice in Wonderland and Tolkein’s The Hobbit.  Her drawings for Alice, for those of us brought up on Tenniel’s upright black-and-white drawings, are revelatory, composed mainly of sinuous curves. The Mad Hatter is a relaxed, possibly slightly drunk figure, leaning companionably on the Dormouse; Alice swirls in spirals in the Pool of Tears.   These works are quite tiny and precise in their execution, the opposite of abstraction.

Tove Jansson, the Moomin family. © Moomin Characters™

Finally, the Moomins made their appearance. A room of sketches, showing how Jansson reworked little scenes again and again to get them right, made me think of the effort involved in this work.  Jansson has incredible economy in her drawings, with just a few lines deployed to set a scene, show character, or tell a story.  It was fascinating to see the notebook stage of the familiar drawings, and delightful to see the original set of Moomin figurines, developed in the sixties to satisfy the demands of Moomin-fans worldwide.  The final room was dedicated to the comic strip Moomins – again, requiring massive work (which was taken over by Tove’s brother, interestingly, when she could no longer keep up with demand) and their excursions into other cultural forms.  There were posters for Moomin plays, operas and exhibitions.

As well as her visual art, Tove Jansson wrote many books for an adult readership.  These have been issued in English translations by Sort Of Books over the last few years  in beautiful editions, and are hugely enjoyable to read.  Her writing is spare,  leaving space for the reader’s imagination; I always feel that she’s conveying, subtly and insinuatingly, a profound wisdom about what is worthwhile in life.  The Summer Book is probably her best-known work, but my favourite is Fair Play. This draws on her own life with her partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä; the couple in the novel mimic the real-life arrangement where they had flats next door to each other, connected by a neutral attic space, both together and apart.  Fair Play shows how two women can combine separate creative careers with a supportive and loving relationship.  Jansson’s marvellous portrait of Tuulikki working at her desk appeared in the exhibition but I can’t find it online in usable form. Instead, here’s a photograph of them together.

By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Tuulikki and Tove (on the right). Tove Jansson looks incredibly cheeky in nearly every photo of her.
The Dulwich exhibition is now over; there are some lovely reviews of it (with more pictures) at The Londonist and Plain.  If you are interested in finding out more about Jansson, there is an authorised biography by Boel Westin which I enjoyed, although it is not written as a traditional biographical narrative, and jumps about a lot between the phases of Jansson’s life.  There’s a good review of  Westin’s book by Kate Macdonald if you want to find out more before starting. This illustrated biography looks fascinating and has gone on my wish list. There are lots of pictures to enjoy at and – the latter has an online shop for all your Moomin needs.  Dulwich Picture Gallery is a delightful place and well worth a visit – they have excellent exhibitions and the main collection is also marvellous.

Mapping the Heavens by Peter Whitfield

About this book
Peter Whitfield’s Mapping the Heavens (British Library, 2018) is a heavily illustrated guide to the history of astronomical mapping.  It’s 183 pages long and around 50,000 words in total.  I was asked to produce a single name and subject index of around 600 lines in a three-column layout, with run-on subheadings.  The book covers astronomical mapping from its earliest notions in prehistory to present-day astrophysics, but from a historical rather than a technical viewpoint; it is intended to be accessible to the general reader.  Although the main subject of the book is very specific, this book has great breadth and depth, ranging from stone circles to photographs from interplanetary probes, and taking in most of western European art on the way.   The importance of astronomy to religious practice – particularly in respect of measuring time and establishing calendars – was also a key theme of the book, as was the interrelationship of astronomy and astrology until relatively recently in the history of the science.  I’m unreasonably fond of maps and quite fond of astronomy, so was very pleased to get this commission.
Approaching the index
In practical terms, I was glad to be able to get a printout of this book from the publisher – it’s a largish format book with lots of illustrations and it was really helpful to be able to read through and mark up the paper copy.  Doing this work on my lap, rather than a table, was a mistake though and generated various aches and pains.   I am not a scientist, so I did a bit of preliminary work on the internet brushing up my understanding of astronomical terms.  Having read through the book, I developed a mind-map of the key themes and sub-themes, and their relationship to each other – here’s a photo.  The colour-coding helped identify thematic links and overlaps.
Mindmap for the index of Mapping the Heavens.
Mindful of my experience with Captain Cook, I made use of Ann Hudson’s formula for calculating how many entries I’d need on a page, on average, to achieve an index of this length, hoping not to have to reduce the total number of entries hugely after I’d finished.
A key challenge was ensuring that I’d properly understood the relationship between certain technical terms, and using dictionaries and the internet to help understand these terms and how they should relate to each other in the index.  For example, the terms brightness, luminosity and magnitude were all used in relation to the light of stars.  Investigations showed that brightness can refer to stellar magnitude (ie how bright a star appears) and also to luminosity (how bright a star appears in a certain spectrum) I thought brightness might well be a sought term for the non-expert reader so included it with see references to luminosity and to magnitude, stellar.  Magnitude and luminosity were also included as subheadings under stars.
As well as technical terminology, I had some problems with synonymous terms.  Star maps and star charts were used fairly interchangeably in the book to refer to the same thing, although sometimes they were used to distinguish between the geometric, astronomical plotting of star positions in two dimensions, and the pictorial, astrological images of the starry sphere.  There was obviously no point in having two separate headings for star maps and star charts, especially as they would be so close to each other as index entries, so eventually I hedged my bets with the main heading star charts/maps.
The breadth of content, given the apparently focused main topic, meant that I had a lot of entries.   The book makes reference to religion and theology, mathematics and geometry, artistic methods and materials, and the history of publishing, as well as giving accounts of the development of astrology and astronomy.  Possibly inevitably, I had to cut down the length of the index during the editing phase.  I had entered more subheadings at the first entry stage than I had done for previous books;  for a number of headings, I was able to save space by removing the subheadings where the total number of locators allowed.
The interrelations of the sub-themes of the book lead to a lot of double entry to avoid too many see references.  This made the index longer but, I think, probably more usable.  Trying to balance including a greater range of sought terms against the improved usability of double entry was quite difficult for this book.
There were a lot of unfamiliar names in this book, and I made heavy use of cutting and pasting to enter them, and did a great deal of careful checking at the editing stage.
Mainly, this book was extremely lovely to look at and a clear, informative account of how and why we have attempted to model the stars and planets over the years.  I learned a lot about astronomy and cartography, and their interaction with the worlds of art, religion and commerce.
I made use of Sky’s labelling systems again and used them to flag illustrations, queries and headings that I thought might not be needed.  I also worked out how to use the filtering system to exclude that last group from the final index, without having to save a copy first and then delete them all, which made life much easier.
Lessons learned
I’m still making too many entries at the first stage, although this is probably better than too few, but at the edit stage there were quite a few headings that seemed very unlikely sought terms.  I also need to think at the term selection stage about how much of my index to devote to double entry of terms, rather than including a wider range of headings.  I also need to do more playing with Sky and see what else it can help me do.

James Cook: The Voyages by William Frame with Laura Walker

About this book

In 2018, it will be 250 years since James Cook set out for the South Pacific on the Endeavour.  To celebrate this anniversary, there will be an exhibition at the British Library from April to August next year, drawing on the Library’s remarkable collection of maps, diaries, paintings and drawings to tell the story of Cook’s voyages.  As well as maps and diaries prepared by the British sailors, scientists and artists, the exhibition will show works by the Tahitian navigiator Tupaia, who travelled with Cook to New Zealand and Australia.  A fascinating exhibition catalogue has been prepared, which foregrounds the work of Tupaia and considers the colonising impact of Cook’s voyages; ostensibly, the first voyage had a scientific purpose (to observe the transit of Venus), but private instructions from the Admiralty gave Cook the additional mission of acquiring new territories for the British Empire.  The catalogue discusses the colonising motives underpinning the voyages, and the impact of the British visitors on Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Hawai’i.  The catalogue has around 200 illustrated pages and is roughly 50,000 words long.  I was asked to provide a name index that included the illustrations and was 600-650 lines long.  The authors and publishers were keen that the careful research done on the names of the indigenous people of the countries Cook visited was reflected in the text.

Approaching the index

I didn’t ask for a printout of this book, and read the PDF on my laptop.  In retrospect, that was a mistake, as this is a larger format book and it wasn’t all that easy to read.  I marked up the PDF using a larger monitor, which was easier.  Again, I made a mind map of the categories of people, places and things with names, to help me select my terms.  I also did some thinking about how to deal with indigenous names, English transliterations, and places that had or still have two names commonly used.  After some email discussion with the publisher, I decided on the following approaches:

  • for indigenous names of people, I would use the correct spelling as specified in the text as the preferred term.  If  incorrect English versions or transcriptions appeared frequently in the book, I would include a ‘see’ reference to the correct version, rather than double entry.  This avoided effacing the correct spelling or transliteration with the English colonial versions.   I also added misspellings that occurred frequently in the text as qualifiers.
  • for placenames, where both English and indigenous names were used in the text and are currently in use,  I would use double entry under both forms, with the other name included as a qualifier at each entry
  • for placenames where the English name is no longer used, I would use a see reference

I also did some preparatory reading on Maori names, which was helpful – the Indexer Centrepieces on names were invaluable here.


Placenames probably gave me the most trouble in this index.  I ended up doing a lot of research to see if both local and English names were still in use, in order to make a decision about whether to use both names in the index.  I also spent a lot of time with an atlas open at the Pacific page, trying to get my head around the shape of Cook’s voyages.

The double entry approach gave me most difficulty in the entry on New Zealand.  There were Maori and English names for most of the places mentioned.    The general entry on New Zealand had a lot of locators, and needed subheadings.  Should I, for example, include both North Island and Te Ika a Maui, its Maori name, as subheadings, duplicating the locators each time?  In the end, this is what I did, to ensure the index user would find the information whichever name they used.

All names needed careful transcription and checking.  I cut and pasted the most challenging names, and checked them all thoroughly. There were some diacritical marks that Sky didn’t seem to want to handle, so I also needed to put those in manually at the end, once I had the index in .rtf form.

Some people – Cook himself, but also Joseph Banks and several of the artists who travelled on the voyages – had a lot of meaningful entries.  This led to long strings; in a name index, I wasn’t quite sure how to break them up.  In the end, for the majority of these, I used placenames as a subheading, reasoning that the entry for the artist Sydney Parkinson, for example, would be easier to use if locators about his travels and his work was linked to particular places.  For Cook himself, I cheated a bit and put in some biographical subject subheadings; there were lots of locators referring to his death, for example, so I included a subheading for that.

Clarifying what all these names were gave me pause for thought, too.  For ship names, Michael Forder’s Indexer Centerpiece on military indexing was very helpful.  I started off with placeholder text to distinguish people, places, and gods.  I swithered about keeping these in as qualifiers, but eventually removed them because they made the index look very cluttered.  Also, if you are looking for Purea in this index, you probably know she is a Tahitian chief and not a mountain or a lake.


The structure of the book made it very easy to point the user at significant mentions, which I highlighted with bold locators.  Key people and places had short chapters devoted to them which included useful summary information. There was very little repetition despite the complex narrative of journeys and so many characters moving in and out of the story.

I also enjoyed getting to grips with some of Sky’s useful features.  I’d used labels before, but for this book I used them to flag illustrations – very helpful for a final check on illustration locators at the end – and to label the different nationalities of each name.  I also discovered the marvellous Propagate Edits tool, which helped me get rid of lots of placeholder notes while editing.

Mainly, though, the pleasures of indexing this book were in its beauty – the illustrations really are wonderful – and its insightful examination of Cook’s journeys.  I learned a great deal.

Lessons learned

It was worth putting in the efforts to work out a strategy for dealing with the indexing of names at the start; this supported my decision-making later on, although I did have to think about whether and how to break my self-imposed rules.  I did slightly better at anticipating the long strings of locators for this book, but there was still a lot of reworking of this at the editing stage.  I also made too many entries, and had to cut down significantly to fit in with the line limit.  I need to think more about how to avoid this – I had a rough target per page, but pages with several illustrations invariably pushed me over that.

For Better, For Worse: Marriage in Victorian Novels by Women

About this book

For Better, For Worse: Marriage in Victorian Novels by Women (edited by Carolyn Lambert and Marion Shaw) is a multi-authored edited collection of chapters on the theme of marriage in fiction by 19th century women writers.  The range of authors covered is quite broad, from the well-known such as George Eliot, through sensation writers like Ellen Wood and Florence Marryat to writers entirely new to me, such as Mary Eliza Haweis.  There is also quite a lot of breadth in terms of historical context (the 19th century is long) and literary form.  The book has just over 200 indexable pages and I was asked to provide an index that would fit, in two columns, on eight pages.

Approaching the index

After my first read of the text, and drawing on Margie Towery’s article “Metatopic and structure” in The Indexer 35: 2 June 2017, pp72-4, I made a mind map of the themes of the book. This helped me sort out the metatopic – representations of marriage in key concepts and types of information held within the book, and the links between them.  I then made a list of the main keywords for the book to keep in mind as I worked through the text.  I also found Kate Mertes’ discussion of the Ur-topic helpful, mainly to remind me that in a library, this book would be shelved with critical work on English literature of the 19th century.  There’s a lot of useful and interesting sociohistorical content in the book, but the index needed to reflect its literary meaning too.  I did a chapter edit and check of locators at the end of each chapter.


Given the large number of authors, I anticipated some difficulties with terminology, but actually key terms in the text – marriages, wives, husbands, infidelity – were fairly consistently applied.  I had some difficulty with indexing terms relating to violence and abuse.  There was much less consistency here, partly I think due to stylistic choices: an author who had used the dryer legal term “marital violence” might change to “wife-beating” in order to heighten the impact of a sentence.  To manage this, I made extensive use of double entry and some see cross-references.

I also came across a few topics where we don’t have a good and likely sought term.  For example, a number of chapters discussed the options for women who chose not to marry.  Some of these references could be included under the heading “spinsters”, but not all were appropriate. There isn’t really an antonym for marriage in English that works as a search term:  I used “alternatives to marriage” as a heading, and also included “alternatives” as a subheading to the main heading on “marriage”.

Names, as ever, needed work.  A lot of nineteenth-century women published under pseudonyms, or are now known, at least in critical works, but a name they did not publish under.  George Eliot is well-known and was easily dealt with.  The writer now usually called Ellen Wood published under the name Mrs Henry Wood.  Margaret Oliphant normally published as Mrs Oliphant, and her full name was actually Margaret Oliphant Oliphant.  All of this needed thinking about so index users (who might not be familiar with modernised forms of names) could find the writers they wanted to read about.

Names of parliamentary Acts were also a challenge.  For example, there were various Acts of Parliament relating to infant custody during the 19th century, with various names, but none was actually called the Infant Custody Act.  However, that was the shorthand form used by various authors in this collection.  Again, this was dealt with by double entry and cross references.  I did consider having a main heading for legislation relating to marriage, but decided not to in the end, as I wasn’t sure a reader would look for it.

Avoiding long strings was tricky in some areas. There were a lot of references to infidelity, for example, that didn’t have obvious conceptual subheadings.  I broke these up in the end by introducing subheadings relating to the book and author discussed at the locator, where relevant.


Well-structured chapters were easier to index. One particular chapter had, as its epigraph, the definitions of two key concepts dealt with in the chapter.  It was very clear what the main topics were in that chapter, aside from the name of the author and books discussed.  Discursive, less focused chapters were just as interesting to read, but harder to index as the structure didn’t present the topics and subtopics so clearly.  I also found it fascinating to watch a concept that wasn’t really foregrounded in the text – the commodification of women – emerge from a collection of essays all composed separately by different authors in various countries.

Lessons learned

The mind-map was immensely helpful as a tool to help keep the structure of the index in my mind while I was working.  Some topics seemed too thin at the editing stage, and I had to go back over the text to check for additional references. One or two were simply unexpected absences (only one author referred explicitly to engagements, for example, although there was a lot of discussion of courtship; engagements went into the index, with a see also reference to courtship) but for others I had been too stingy during the term selection phase.  I would hope to anticipate likely long strings better on future texts, and break these down as I go.