Embedded Indexing Survey Results (LONG, 242 lines)
"Nancy C. Mulvany" <nmulvany -at- WELL -dot- SF -dot- CA -dot- US>
Wed, 23 Feb 1994 07:41:46 -0800
In December 1993 I posted a Request for Comments (RFC) about
embedded indexing software on three discussion groups on the
Internet. Specifically, I asked if people were satisfied with
the embedded indexing tools that they used. I asked people to
indicate what tools they used and to indicate any features they
would like to see added.
The RFC was posted at the following locations:
Indexing Conference on The WELL
INDEX-L -at- BINGVMB -dot- BITNET
TECHWR-L -at- VM1 -dot- UCC -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
FRAMERS -at- UUNET -dot- UU -dot- NET
The RFC was re-posted by others on other lists. People were
asked to respond during Dec. 9-31, 1993. During this period I
received 85 comments about embedded indexing tools.
Absolutely no effort was made to conduct a "scientific"
survey. Discussions about whether or not these results reflect
a fair sample of the population that uses embedded indexing
software are pointless. The fact is that during a typically
busy time of the year (the Christmas holiday season) I
received approximately 185 Kb of comments from people who are
users of this type of software. The results overwhelmingly
confirm my own experiences with users of this software.
Question: Are you satisfied with embedded indexing software
that you have used?
5% are satisfied (n=4)
95% are not satisfied (n=81)
Satisfied respondents are those who said they were satisfied
and/or had no suggestions for improvements in the product(s).
Not satisfied respondents are those who said they were not
satisfied and/or had suggestions for improvements in the
The number following the product name indicates the number of
comments received about the product.
Satisfied with the Embedded Indexing Module (n=4; 5%)
IBM BookMaster (2)
Not Satisfied with the Embedded Indexing Module (n=81; 95%)
IBM BookMaster (1)
Microsoft Word (15)
Ventura Publisher (4)
Product Not Specified (10)
* It should be noted that the relatively large number of
responses about FrameMaker are very likely due to the fact
that the RFC was posted to a list devoted to FrameMaker
discussion which of course biased the number of responses
Respondents' Suggestions for Improvements
Many of the respondents included thoughtful comments about
features they would like to see added or improvements they
would like to see made in embedded indexing software. It is
significant that so many respondents took time to compose
these comments. This indicates to me a serious concern on the
part of users of this type of software.
While some of the comments are specifically related to a
particular product, many other comments are universal and can
applied to any tool used for indexing electronic material. I
will present the general comments that I consider to be of
interest universally. Of course, not all comments apply to all
products. I have listed suggestions that for the most part
were suggested by more than one respondent.
o Index entry methods
Many find the methods used to create index entries to be
tedious and time consuming. Some prefer a "fill-in the fields"
methods as seen in Ventura's dialog box or Interleaf's
"Levelx" sheet. Others want a method for creating index
entries without having to remove their hands from the
o Index display
Many are frustrated by the not being able to see index entries
that have been created previously. Some products allow the
writer to see the last few entries created, many would like to
be able to see all entries already created. One user comments,
"PageMaker's indexing at least lets you see other entries in
the same alphabetical range you have made, but forces you to
break your index editing task into two modes: editing already
existing entries, and then going back and adding tags for new
entries. It is really slow."
o Index editing
Many, many comments were devoted to the index editing task.
Since many programs generate the index as a static document,
editing changes must be made in the text files by locating
individual tags/index tokens, changing them, and regenerating
Suggestions for improvement include:
The generated index should be dynamic document that is linked
to the index tags. Changes made in the index file should be
updated in the text file tags. As noted above, this feature is
available in PageMaker; it is also available in Describe, a
product not mentioned in this survey. It should be possible to
spell-check the embedded index entries and globally change
entries and their tags.
o Citing continuous discussion of a topic
Many complain about the methods used for citing the range of
pages on which a topic is discussed. In some programs the
method is so tedious that writers do not attempt to provide
page ranges (e.g, files, copying, 5-9). Essentially people
want an "easy" way to indicate that a discussion begins right
here and ends there.
o Increase the size of the index window/panel/dialog box
o Sorting: Better algorithms that allow index entries to be
sorted correctly; faster; ignore leading function words in
o Cumulative Indexes: should be easy to merge multiple
0 Reference Locators: Ability to properly handle modular page
numbers (e.g., 3-2) and lettered appendix page numbers (e.g.,
A-3); reminder of incomplete range references (missing
startrange or endrange string)
o Index Text Formatting: Ability to retain text formatting in
the document in the index entry. Ability to set pre-defined
styles, such as all main headings will be capitalized.
o Index Document Formatting: automatically take care of bad
breaks with "continued" phrases; widow/orphan control; more
control over the final index format
o Attach a Thesaurus for Vocabulary Control
o Pick entries from a list of previous entries
o Quickly be able to invert entries (i.e., make the subentry a
main heading and the main heading a subentry)
o Easily repeat any heading level instead of re-typing
o Interactively display all entries with specified string of
o Cross-references: Easy insertion of cross-references; specify
their position with the entire entry and for subentries;
cumulate multiple cross-references so that they do not appear
o Automatic Text Processing Tools: Generate a concordance that
the writer can edit to create the index. It is interesting to
note that most writers requesting this feature insisted on
human intervention, noting that a concordance is not an index.
One summed up the matter by writing, "The biggest problem with
a scheme like this one, though, is the overwhelming potential
to implement it poorly."
o Display embedded entries in the document in a clear way
This report is already getting too long for general
circulation via Internet discussion groups, so I will be
brief. First, I want to thank everyone who contributed
comments. Second, I want to say that you have verified the
work I have doing in this area since 1988.
The features and functionality you request are all "doable".
Many of these features have been incorporated into standalone
indexing software for the past 11 years. My company publishes
standalone indexing software (Macrex) for IBM PCs. This
software is primarily used by indexers indexing from printed
pages of text; it does not embed tags in text files. Users of
this type of software work with their index in alphabetic
order. They are able to reduce keyboarding significantly
through the use of dedicated commands for this purpose.
Because you can see exactly where an entry will go, it is
possible to significantly reduce inconsistencies.
Cross-references are verified instantly so that you will know
if you create a cross-reference for an entry that does not
exist. It is possible to group together entries that contain
specified strings of text. This way the indexer can see all
entries for a particular phrase; both main headings and
subentries will be displayed.
It is my opinion that the design of embedded indexing tools
has been "wrong-headed" from the start. The context has been
wrong. The context has been the document being indexed rather
than the index being written. With many of the these programs
you are indexing in the dark. You cannot easily see the
emerging index structure. Imagine your word processor causing
each sentence to disappear as soon as it is ended. As you work
you are unable to see the sentence in context with other
sentences or paragraphs. An overhaul of the user interface
design of embedded indexing software is called for.
Problems with incorrect alphabetization, reference locator
handling, formatting of bad breaks with indexes are due to
sloppiness. There's no excuse for these problems. We solved
them with the CP/M version of our software during the days
when computers came with 64Kb of memory!
Designers of embedded indexing software would do well to
consult the standard references in indexing (Chicago Manual of
Style, 14th edition; Indexing Books, Nancy Mulvany, Univ. of
Chicago Press, 1994; British Standard 3700:1988). There are
rules and guidelines for presentation of indexes that have
been widely ignored by developers. It would also be helpful if
designers spoke with professional indexers and find out how we
work. Before developers can provide efficient tools they must
understand the process of creating authored indexes.
A more in-depth discussion of embedded indexing software will be
presented at the 26th Annual Meeting of the American Society of
Indexers in San Diego (May 13-14, 1994). The paper will appear in
the ASI Proceedings for that meeting (available in May 1994).
Contact ASI at: P.O. Box 386, Port Aransas, TX 78373; or via
email at asi -at- well -dot- sf -dot- ca -dot- us
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nmulvany -at- well -dot- sf -dot- ca -dot- us
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