RE: Looking for classes in indexing

Subject: RE: Looking for classes in indexing
From: <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
To: "'Jonathan Baker'" <jbaker2525 -at- gmail -dot- com>, <dick -at- rlhamilton -dot- net>
Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2018 09:49:06 -0400

Index automation can only take you so far. For the book I referred to earlier, we experimented with index automation. The book is about structured writing, so naturally we used structured writing techniques. This included the annotation of subjects mentioned in the text, and of the subjects covered in chapters and sections. This is essentially what an index does -- it points you to the places were different subjects are treated in a document. So it follows that we should be able to derive an index from these annotations.

This is already a much more controlled process than using software to scan an unstructured text for keywords, which is all that automated indexing software can do, short of an AI revolution that has not arrived yet. The subject annotations that we used noted the type of the subject and rectified the terminology (for example: {XML}(markup-language "Extensible Markup Language")). This gave us a significant degree of terminology control and allowed us to detect a lot of inconsistency in the book (as Richard mentioned earlier). It also allowed us to automatically create entries for the major types of subject matter discussed in the book:

markup languages
XML, 56, 68, 72
HTML, 345, 403
Markdown, 3, 76, 432

The result was a not bad index, but certainly not as good as Richard wanted. In particular, it did not let us do things like this:

constraints, 27, 228, 367â390
auditing, 431
cost of reuse, 153
data entry, 315
detecting duplication using, 414â415
extensibility and, 334
factoring out, 29, 42, 308
managing reuse, 134
media-domain, 29
personalization, 167
rhetorical, 246
semantic, 312â315
structural, 312â315
types of schema, 389
uniqueness, 174

These types of entries put terms in their narrative context. This requires a human reading of the surrounding text. It can't be done effectively from subject-domain semantic markup and it certainly can't be done reliably (yet) by indexing apps working on unstructured text.

Why is this important? Search engines have two big advantages over indexes (other than their enormous advantage in scope, which I mentioned earlier). First, indexes work on individual terms, while search engines can work with phrases and sentences. You can type an entire question into a search engine and it will use the whole sentence to discern what you are interested in. In other words, you can put your search terms in their narrative context up front by searching on the right phrase.

Second, they have a ranking algorithm that does a remarkably good job (most of the time) at selecting the most relevant entry and putting it at the top of the list. Indexes, by contrast, list pages in numerical order. If you want to get really fancy, you can bold page numbers for the main entries for a subject, but that is not in any way specific to the user's individual query. Search engines not only rank the subject matter statically, they rank it for the known interests of the individual user.

These entries that put terms into their narrative context help indexes partially make up for these deficiencies vis a vis search engines. They can only be created by hand, and Richard felt it was important to do this for the book, particularly in cases where a subject is mentioned many times. An undifferentiated list of 30 page references presents a rather daunting task to the reader. The context setting entries can help them narrow down what they are looking for.

We did not throw out the automated generation of the index altogether, however. Rather, we added markup that allowed us to supplement the generated entries with human created entries (100% of which were created by Richard, who is way better at this sort of thing than I am). As a result of this hybrid approach, we were able to reduce the indexing effort significantly, while still incorporating valuable index features than can only be created by hand.

I'm planning to blog about this and other aspects of the development process for the book sometime soonish.

Mark

> -----Original Message-----
> From: techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com <techwr-
> l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com> On Behalf Of
> Jonathan Baker
> Sent: Friday, July 27, 2018 7:22 AM
> To: dick -at- rlhamilton -dot- net
> Cc: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> Subject: Re: Looking for classes in indexing
>
> Iâm not into religious wars, so I wonât go there. However, in following this
> conversation , it occurred to me that there may be some tools out there to
> automate the indexing process. I didnât do a search, but did stumble upon a
> tool called TExtract (texyz.com). I havenât used it, but may the next time I
> need to do an index.
>
> Also, one of the best books about indexing was written by Ruth Canedy
> Cross. Unfortunately, Indexing Books is out of print and only sometimes
> available on Amazon.
>
> Jon
>
> Sent from my iPad
>
> > On Jul 26, 2018, at 5:27 PM, dick -at- rlhamilton -dot- net wrote:
> >
> > I canât speak for Tim, but in my experience, I have uncovered terminology
> problems while indexing a book (e.g., inconsistent use of terminology,
> unnecessary use of synonyms, terms used before they are defined, etc.). It
> also gives you a different perspective on a book, which can reveal problems
> that you missed in editing. While indexing, I have found typos that were
> missed in previous editing passes.
> >
> > But I wouldn't go so far as to say that itâs worth doing if you donât publish
> the index; if I go to the trouble of doing an index, then it will be published:-).
> >
> > Best regards,
> > Richard
> > -------
> > XML Press
> > XML for Technical Communicators
> > http://xmlpress.net
> > hamilton -at- xmlpress -dot- net
> >
> >
> >
> >> On Jul 26, 2018, at 14:12, Wright, Lynne <Lynne -dot- Wright -at- Kronos -dot- com>
> wrote:
> >>
> >> Can you elaborate on how indexing is a good way to review your work?
> >>
> >> The docs I used to index were several hundred pages long; it used to take
> me DAYS to compile a properly edited index for them. That's a lot of time to
> spend if you're not actually going to use that index; and I can't think of any
> occasion where it helped me improve the actual content or structure or
> anything.
> >>
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From: techwr-l-bounces+lynne -dot- wright=kronos -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> >> <techwr-l-bounces+lynne -dot- wright=kronos -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com> On
> >> Behalf Of Slager Timothy J
> >> Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2018 4:52 PM
> >> To: mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> >> Subject: RE: Looking for classes in indexing
> >>
> >> A search engine is an index. In a different form. If you are tagging and
> adding synonyms, you are indexing. I'm all for new formats, but it is still
> indexing (pointing to information).
> >>
> >> A side advantage to an index is that it is an excellent way to review your
> work (or someone else's). The benefits here make it worthwhile even if you
> don't publish the index.
> >>
> >> My 2p. tims
> >>
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From: techwr-l-bounces+timothy -dot- slager=dematic -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> >> [mailto:techwr-l-bounces+timothy -dot- slager=dematic -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- co
> >> m] On Behalf Of mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com
> >> Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2018 7:20 PM
> >> To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> >> Subject: RE: Looking for classes in indexing
> >>
> >> I'm old too, but let's face it, indexes are the paper substitute for a search
> engine. Anything an index can do, a decent search engine can do better (yes,
> including synonyms). More to the point, even the old are so habituated to
> search now that the only way they are going to stumble into your index is if it
> shows up in a search results.
> >>
> >> Unless, of course, they actually are reading on paper, because then the
> index is the poor man's search engine, and in that case it better be good,
> because it has a lot to live up to.
> >>
> >> And if there are those out there that still want to claim that indexes are
> better than search engines, here is the clincher: An index only works when
> you have a the right book in your hand. Which means you have to find the
> book before you can use the index. But a search engine searches everything.
> >> The reader does not have to locate the book first. Indeed, they probably
> never know which "book" their results came from. They live in a world of
> pages, not books, and they find pages using search. Every Page is Page One.
> >>
> >> If I was looking for a course to take in this day an age, I would take SEO
> before I took indexing. Unless, of course, I was actually preparing a book for
> publication on paper. (Which, as it happens, I am: Structured Writing:
> >> Rhetoric and Process, real soon now from XML press. I think it has a
> >> pretty good index, most of which is Richard Hamilton's doing.)
> >>
> >> Mark
> >>
> >>> -----Original Message-----
> >>> From: techwr-l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> >>> <techwr-
> >>> l-bounces+mbaker=analecta -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com> On Behalf Of Guy
> >>> l-bounces+Ball
> >>> Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2018 6:40 PM
> >>> To: 'TECHWR-L' <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
> >>> Subject: RE: Looking for classes in indexing
> >>>
> >>> As Lynne noted, you really need to determine if an index makes sense
> >>> for
> >> the
> >>> documentation you're creating - particularly if your audience has
> >>> moved
> >> into
> >>> a modern mode of just "searching" for subject matter.
> >>>
> >>> We did away with indexes because we always delivered as a pdf file
> >>> and found that our customer base generally does a simple "find" to
> >>> quickly
> >> locate
> >>> what
> >>> they wanted. (I sometimes wonder if they even care about TOCs
> >>> anymore.) By doing away with indexes, we saved many hours (days in
> >>> most cases) for a tech staff that was already too small and
> >>> overworked to handle our
> >> existing
> >>> workload.
> >>>
> >>> I would recommend classes in Frame, some illustrator tool (your
> >>> choice),
> >> or
> >>> some online tool you might think about moving to.
> >>>
> >>> (And before I get "hate mail" from indexers and other writers who
> >>> love them, know that I love indexes myself when reading a
> >>> particularly
> >> technical
> >>> manual. But I'm also "old" and like reading a paper newspaper every
> >>> morning.)
> >>>
> >>> Guy
> >>>
> >>> -----Original Message-----
> >>> From: techwr-l-bounces+mrcalc=pacbell -dot- net -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> >>> [mailto:techwr-l-bounces+mrcalc=pacbell -dot- net -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On
> >>> Behalf Of Wright, Lynne
> >>> Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2018 9:45 AM
> >>> To: Lin Sims <ljsims -dot- ml -at- gmail -dot- com>; TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-
> >>> l.com>
> >>> Subject: RE: Looking for classes in indexing
> >>>
> >>> Aside from being able to maintain a high level of fussiness and
> >>> focus for
> >> as
> >>> long as it takes to build, then refine refine refine an index, the
> >>> key to
> >> creating
> >>> effective indexes is being able to figure out what super-succinct
> >>> terms/keywords, and alternates for those terms, that users are most
> >>> likely
> >> to
> >>> look for when they consult an index, and avoiding redundancies. I'm
> >>> not
> >> sure
> >>> that that's something that can be taught in a one-size-fits-all
> >>> class,
> >> since it
> >>> comes down to how well you know the product you are
> documenting/what
> >>> search terms are important enough to include, and how well you can
> >>> intuit how your end users think.
> >>>
> >>> So I'd be curious to hear from people who have actually taken
> >>> indexing courses, with regards to whether they found those courses
> >>> particularly useful. Once you know how to add index markers with
> >>> whatever tool you're using, and what syntaxes to use when entering
> >>> index entries, what else do those courses cover?
> >>>
> >>> You may benefit more by creating an index or two, then running them
> >>> past an experienced indexer who can edit/give you feedback on what
> >>> to change, until you start getting the hang of what works/what doesn't.
> >>>
> >>> Keep in mind that as documentation moves more and more into
> >>> electronic and web-based output, users probably rely more on search
> >>> functions than indexes.
> >>> It's the same concept, in that it comes down to figuring out optimal
> >> keyword
> >>> tags; but my point is, you may want to look for a course that is
> >>> less
> >> focused
> >>> on old-school print-doc indexes, and more on search optimization for
> >>> electronic content.
> >>>
> >>> -----Original Message-----
> >>> From: techwr-l-bounces+lynne -dot- wright=kronos -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> >>> <techwr-l-bounces+lynne -dot- wright=kronos -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com> On
> >>> Behalf Of Lin Sims
> >>> Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2018 11:51 AM
> >>> To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
> >>> Subject: Looking for classes in indexing
> >>>
> >>> My employer has decided that everyone in the company should be able
> >>> to get job-related training, and me and my fellow tech writer have
> >>> been told
> >> to
> >>> find something to learn. Since indexes are something we're supposed
> >>> to do and neither of us has experience with it, I thought that might
> >>> be a good
> >> skill
> >>> to learn and I'm hoping for recommendations.
> >>>
> >>> I've got a couple of books on indexing (Larry Bonura's The Art of
> >>> Indexing and Kurt Ament's Indexing: A Nuts-and-Bolts Guide for
> >>> Technical Writers), but I think as rank newbies we would benefit from
> some actual classes.
> >>>
> >>> I am not really interested in joining the ASI just to get access to
> >>> what
> >> appears
> >>> to be an excellent set of webinars; indexing is an adjunct to our
> >>> job, not
> >> its
> >>> focus. (Annoyingly, the Google blip says that STC members can get it
> >>> at a discount, but I've found no way for STC members who are not ASI
> >>> members to get the course.)
> >>>
> >>> The STC doesn't appear to be running its 2-day "Indexing Skills for
> >> Technical
> >>> Communicators" indexing course anytime soon, either.
> >>>
> >>> So, any recommendations? There's only two of us, so having someone
> >>> come in to train is probably too expensive (small company, you know?).
> >>>
> >>> --
> >>> Lin Sims
> >>> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> >>> Visit TechWhirl for the latest on content technology, content
> >>> strategy and content development |
> >>>
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> 63a
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> >>
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Follow-Ups:

References:
Looking for classes in indexing: From: Lin Sims
RE: Looking for classes in indexing: From: Wright, Lynne
RE: Looking for classes in indexing: From: Guy Ball
RE: Looking for classes in indexing: From: mbaker
RE: Looking for classes in indexing: From: Slager Timothy J
RE: Looking for classes in indexing: From: Wright, Lynne
Re: Looking for classes in indexing: From: dick
Re: Looking for classes in indexing: From: Jonathan Baker

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