Placement of index and TOC?

Subject: Placement of index and TOC?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, "Jones, Donna" <DJones -at- zebra -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 19 May 2006 11:23:43 -0400

Donna Jones noted: <<IMHO the index and TOC are best separated so you can find them more easily. It's a simple usability issue. When they're located at separate ends (and without other stuff between them and the covers) you can flip to them quickly.>>

Personally, I don't see any difference between this and flipping past the TOC to get to the first page of the documentation: flipping is flipping. YMMV, but I doubt this is why the two are separated. Speculating entirely without a net here, but I'd guess the index goes at the end because this lets the publisher send the manuscript to the printer while they're waiting for the indexer to complete their work.

Inserting the index at the front of the book could still be done (e.g., using Roman numerals for page numbers), but it could make the imposition process (grouping of the pages that will be printed on the same sheets of paper) more complicated. It can be done more easily now, using automated imposition software, but pre-computers, imposing the signatures correctly was something of a black art that few outside the print shop had mastered.

<<One of my pet peeves is when a printed piece has a bunch of junk between the front cover and the TOC so I have to dig to find the TOC. Magazines are notorious for this.>>

Yup--I remember once flipping through Vogue or some such in a doctor's office, and finding something like 40 to 60 pages of ads preceding the TOC. They do this specifically to support advertisers: this approach forces you to skim through the ads in the desperate hope you won't miss the TOC. Ever noticed how so many ads appear on the right-hand side of two-page spreads and so many articles start on the left page? Same reason: the right hand page is the first thing you see when flipping pages trying to find anything. (I speculate that in languages that read from right to left, and thus start at what we anglos would consider the back of the book, the pattern is reversed.)

Ever wondered why magazines so often split long articles across a wide range of pages? Same reason: it forces you to flip pages and see ads you might otherwise get to ignore if you're focused on the content. This is also why clever (malicious?) ad designers change the typography of the ads to come as close as possible to that of the content: they hope you'll mistake the ad for content and start reading. You'll usually see miniscule "this is an advertisement" type at the bottom of the pages of more ethical magazines that allow this design practice.

<<Some books do it, too, with too much information cluttering the front of the book. The TOCs can be buried a number of pages back, and some TOCs don't stand out from the pages around them, making them even more difficult to locate. By the time you find the TOC, you forget why you wanted it.>>

The former situation can be done for a less annoying reason than advertising in magazines: the authors want you to read this material before you get to the TOC, and sometimes it's important that you do so. I can accept that, because if the material comes after the TOC, most readers (searching for a specific topic rather than reading the book cover to cover) will never see that material. Failing to make the TOC easily identifiable is just bad design IMHO.

<<I miss the days when Readers Digest had the TOC on the front cover. Now THAT was usable!>>

That would probably work well for shorter manuals. Wonder why we don't see that done more often? But it clearly wouldn't work for long manuals.

<<I finally find something in a magazine TOC and start digging through the pages only to find that none of the pages are numbered for 10 or 20 pages on either side of the article. Or they have meaningless page numbers in the middle of the magazine--Advertisement page 1, Advertisement page 2--and I'm looking for page 119. Number the pages, people! And use consecutive numbers!>>

I remember asking a magazine publisher why they did this, and their answer was that the ads were provided as camera-ready copy (or print-ready PDF files nowadays) by the advertisers, and thus, given tight press deadlines, it wasn't possible for the desktop publisher to add the page numbers. The first part is true and acceptable; the latter part is probably nonsense. It's easy in most software to manually set the page numbers as a "top" layer that overprints (knocks out) even a full-page bleed, and not much harder to automate this with a bit of cleverness.

I say "probably" because in some publishing setups, the advertisers and the publishers send separate files to the printer, who then merges them. In that case, there's not much the publisher can do about the problem because they have no idea where type will appear in the ads, and they can't risk offending an advertiser by ruining their ad design. Well, they could adopt a sensible publishing schedule with advertising deadlines far in advance of sending the files to the printer, but (i) most publishers aren't nearly this organized and (ii) advertisers pay most of the publishing costs, and would resist this approach. The same problems ensure that most publishers can't simply say "your ads cannot intrude on the running header or footer of our design". It would solve the problem neatly, but piss off the advertisers.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Placement of index and TOC: From: Jones, Donna

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