Indexes in the PDF era

Subject: Indexes in the PDF era
From: "F. Marc de Piolenc" <piolenc -at- archivale -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2007 17:10:31 +0800

A good index is just as important as it ever was, because

- an index is a lot more than a flat word-search list. It is a hierarchical ordering of the information contained in the publication being indexed

- what is omitted is just as helpful as what is included. A straight word search may turn up 40 instances of the search term, even though the search term has no relevance to the document or to the information that the searcher needs. Examples: search for the word "windows" turns up zillions of instances of the Microsoft trademark even though the searcher was looking for information on apertures in buildings; or the searcher was looking for information on the relative merits of Windows and other operating systems, but the document only mentions Windows in passing, conveying no information useful to the searcher. A good index will distinguish windows from Windows, and will not index either one unless there is relevant and useful information in the text, e.g.

"Windows (computer operating system) - file system structure"
"windows (architectural feature) - solar gain from south-facing"

Unfortunately, it is hard to find examples of good indexes to use as ammunition in keeping one in the project. Good indexing has always required careful thought and attention, as well as familiarity with the subject matter, so the majority of indexes is and always has been crap, because it is rare for the author of a book or monograph to build the index. Now there are tools available to do just that, but they are seldom used.


Hi Whirlers,
Before starting an initiative to improve our indexes, I consulted with
the team leaders and to my surprise, one of the possibilities mentioned
was to not provide indexes at all. The claim was that people are now so
used to search for everything (google effect) that using indexes became
somewhat archaic. It is true that search results are often too many and
useless, but one can search within the search results and refine the
search criteria - a process that people are familiar with. Even if a
small percentage of old-timers still use them, preparing indexes might
not be cost-effective. Took me a while to 'digest' the idea (and perhaps
realize that I'm an old timer myself), so what's you take on this?
Opinions appreciated.


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