Re: Is a bad index better than no index?

Subject: Re: Is a bad index better than no index?
From: Jo Francis Byrd <jbyrd -at- byrdwrites -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 22 May 2001 21:12:10 -0500


I have done documentation without an index, but these are specific instances, and
usually have such a comprehensive TOC that the index would be redundant.

My background includes amateur historian and librarian (confessing the latter sends
those who know me into gales of hysterical laughter: YOU? a liBRARian???!!!).
Reference materials are worthless without an index; what good is the information if
you can't find it?

There are books that explain the indexing process. My advice (for what it's worth;
it's free, you know) is to invest in a couple, study them, and teach yourself how
to index. It's not my favorite task, but I consider it critical enough to be decent
at it.

Jo Byrd

David Castro wrote:

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, apparently.

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 wrench....


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Is a bad index better than no index?: From: David Castro

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