Multiple Index Entries: Your Input, Please...?

Subject: Multiple Index Entries: Your Input, Please...?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Keith Hansen <KRH -at- weiland-wfg -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 23 May 2006 16:20:43 -0400

Keith Hansen wondered: <<In many cases, it's possible to have two (or more) index entries that refer you to the same page. Example: * Index Entry No. 1: Users, adding to system . . . p. 264 * Index Entry No. 2: Adding users to system . . . p. 264>>

Not a professional indexer, but I've done enough reading and practicing to be a credible indexer. I also use indexes heavily, and know what works for me, but have done only minor usability testing of my own indexes with unsuspecting victims (though I received nice compliments). With those caveats:

<<* Is one of the above formats considered preferable to the other?>>

No. Both are equally useful, just for different situations.

<<I prefer Index Entry No. 1 because it starts with the broad category you are working with (users) and then lists the specific action you are performing with that category (adding to system).>>

Both are useful and indeed, I'd recommend including both. The first one focuses on the subject of a task, whereas the latter focuses on the task. So people who think in terms of the task will find it under "adding", whereas those who focus on the subjects of those tasks will look under "users: things you can do to the poor beggars". I use both at different times, particularly if the first alternative doesn't turn up the topic I'm looking for, and I assume most readers are no different.

<<In a large index (say, dozens of pages), I would probably include both entries in my index. But what if the index is quite brief (say, five to 10 pages)? Would you still include both entries?>>

Yup. The goal of an index is to help people find information, not to meet an arbitrary length limitation. If an entry is useful, then by definition it's useful irrespective of the index length.

<<My view is that when the index is brief, it's easier for the user to quickly scan the entire contents. Thus, both entries may not be as necessary.>>

Don't know about you, but I'll only scan an entire index--even a short one--if I'm truly desperate. If I don't find something under the first two or three keywords that come to mind, I'll curse the indexer and all their descendants, then go to Google to find what I'm looking for.

The purpose of a well-designed index is to eliminate this behavior--including the curse upon the indexer's house. <g> After all, forcing users to scan an index, even a short one, is the logical equivalent of asking them to flip through the documentation scanning the headers. If the docs are short, why not do this? Because it's not kind to the user. Same logic applies to indexing.

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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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Multiple Index Entries: Your Input, Please...: From: Keith Hansen

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