Is a bad index better than no index?

Subject: Is a bad index better than no index?
From: David Castro <thetechwriter -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 22 May 2001 14:53:33 -0700 (PDT)

I may have posed this question a couple of years ago...I tried searching the
archives, but "index" is a word that you can't use in the search tool,

Anyway, my question is, is it better to create an index that isn't great (due
to my lack of an indexer's skill), or to leave the document without one?

I started at my current company about 9 months ago, and it turned out that none
of the manuals had indexes in them. This includes a ~500 page reference guide
for the main product. We distribute the documentation in PDF format, which
means that our users can search on a particular word or phrase, so they *do*
have that option if we don't create an index. (Not that I'm claiming full text
search is equivalent to an index...I know it isn't.)

I volunteered to create indexes for our guides, as the other writer at the
company has absolutely no interest in creating them (though, she agrees that
they are important). Unfortunately, though, my skill is in writing material,
not indexing it. I find myself doing little more than what an automatic
indexing tool would probably do...indexing certain key words (application
module names, application features, and so on) that users could easily search
on if they really wanted to find out what was written about them. When I look
at the index, I don't see much there that would be helpful.

I do realize that there is value in being able to scan an index when you don't
*know* what word to search on, and maybe I'm adding that kind of value by
creating the index. But I don't really know. Hence, my question. Do you think
it would be worth the effort to create the index, on the off-chance that
someone might skim the index looking for something to prompt their memory, or
to lead them to the answer to a question they don't know how to ask?

One last note...I *did* initially suggest hiring a professional indexer, but
that idea was dismissed by the powers that be. So, here we are, using a hammer
where a wrench would do better, because the company doesn't want to buy a

-David Castro
email -at- davidcastro -dot- com

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