RE Is a bad index better than no index?

Subject: RE Is a bad index better than no index?
From: "John Fleming" <johnf -at- ecn -dot- ab -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 23 May 2001 18:24:10 -0600

> Subject: Is a bad index better than no index?
> From: David Castro <thetechwriter -at- yahoo -dot- com>
> Date: Tue, 22 May 2001 14:53:33 -0700 (PDT)
> X-Message-Number: 45

> 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

As others have pointed out, yes, a bad index is better than no index.

And a really good index goes beyond what is possible with a simple
full text search.

Say you have a text that always refers to a certain author by the name
"Mark Twain," and no in no other way.

Your full text search will certainly find "Mark Twain."

But it won't help if the person using your text is searching using
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark's real name). A really good index,
however, will have an entry along the lines of "Clemens, Samuel
Langhorne, see Twain, Mark."

And that kind of thing isn't limited to authors' names either.

To use an example from my current contract, we often refer to
"recharging an account." Full text search would find "recharge," but
it isn't going to help the person searching using the term "rebill."
And the person looking for information on how to rebill an account is
going to find exactly what they are looking for in the material on
recharging an account.

A somewhat less ambitious index is going to give the reader a few
extra details to help narrow the search.

For example,

Main switchboard
class modules, 1085-1087
event-handling code, 1088-1089
Forms Design view, 77

(Example from Special Edition
Using Microsoft Access 2000, Que)

A reader looking for information on event-handling code for a main
switchboard can easily eliminate two thirds of the index entries.
Quite a time saver for a work with dozens of references to the same

And even the simplest index, often little more than the terms from the
table of contents in alphabetical order will quickly help the reader
find the major sections of the text on the subject of interest.

So yes, while a text search is quick and dirty, it has its limitations
when pitted against a simple index, and is really outclassed by a good

(And no, I am not a professional indexer.)


John Fleming
Technical Writer
Edmonton, Alberta
email: johnf -at- ecn -dot- ab -dot- ca


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