Re: Indexing Online Books: Cost Effective?

Subject: Re: Indexing Online Books: Cost Effective?
From: Joan Stout <sasjcs -at- UNX -dot- SAS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 5 Nov 1993 13:41:52 -0500

> I'm sure that we would all agree that a well constructed
> index is a cost effective part of a paper manual - in other
> words, it's a great deal of hard work but worth the effort.

> If the same books are delivered online, with full text retrieval
> facilities, the index still has a value but I suspect the value
> is much less. Anybody got any opinions on cost effectiveness?

> --------------------------------------------------------------------
> Jon Huxtable
> Documentation Manager - Computervision R&D, Harston, Cambridge, UK.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------

We kicked around this same issue for several months. At first, it
appeared that I would have a hard time convincing some people that an
index is necessary *at all* when you have full-text retrieval. Here
are some of the things we considered:

1. We want to provide a variety of access methods for our online

2. An index is an access method that nearly everyone is familiar

3. Full-text retrieval and computer-generated "indexes" provide
little or no structure. A conceptual index gives you a list
of topics (not just *terms*) and shows how they are related.

4. In addition to being an access method, an index is also a kind of
map of what's included in the book. If you access the information
with full-text retrieval, you have to know what you're looking
for before you get started. If you take a look at the index, you
can see what's covered in the book.

5. How effective will the users' queries be? I can't quote statistics
on this, but many users are uncomfortable with composing queries for
full-text retrieval. Many users won't know how to make effective
queries. How many queries will a user have to make before finding
*all* of the information on a given topic? And what if the user
doesn't know the proper term for the topic? Users may search for
a topic that is discussed in the documentation using different
terms. The terms used for the full-text search may not actually
appear in the text, even though the topic is covered. I like what
Horton has to say about this: "Indexing would anticipate the
thought processes of the user and would associate the user's search
terms with the topic."

6. I talked with six people who use full-text retrieval systems on a
daily basis. Four of those people teach others to use the systems.
All six people said an index would make the system easier and less
frustrating to use. In interviews at our annual users group
conference, users say they want an index with online documentation.

Is it cost-effective to provide an index when you have full-text
retrieval capability? It depends. 8-) We've decided to give our
users an index *and* full-text retrieval. Someone much higher in
the company decided that it's cost-effective for us and that it
gives our users what they want and need.


| Joan Stout | "I worked as a technical writer...editing |
| Freelance Indexer | manuals...on how to dispose of sewage in |
| Technical Writer | permafrost; we all had to wear white shirts |
| sasjcs -at- unx -dot- sas -dot- com | - that was mandatory - and I was fired at |
| SAS Institute, Inc. | the end of two weeks for spending too much |
| Cary, NC | time staring out the window." (Edward Abbey) |

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