Indexing User Manuals and On-Line Help

Subject: Indexing User Manuals and On-Line Help
From: Susan Holbert <susanh -at- WORLD -dot- STD -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 1996 11:08:14 -0400

I'm an indexer (16 yrs) and have been training tech writers how to index
for 10 years. I saw on the indexing listserve that this group was having a
discussion about indexing and that many tech writers do not like indexing. I
have not read the postings, so I hope my comments are relevant.

Indexers are both born and made.

Born: You have to be the kind of person who likes to organize things (even
if you never find time to do it). If you're not, you 'll never enjoy
indexing and you'll never be good at.
Solutions: 1. In large companies, one person can be trained to index. That
person will have the skills and personality to be a good indexer and can
confer with writers about subject matter.
2. Hire a contract indexer. You can contact one through the indexing
listserve: INDEX-L -at- BINGVMB -dot- BITNET We charge about the same as tech writers
and free the writers at the end of the project just when the deadlines are
tightest and most writers are too burnt out to take on a new task with
The theory that the writers are best qualified to index because they know
the material is the same theory that had programmers and engineers writing
their own doc ten years ago. It's essential to have the talent and
communication skills first, subject knowledge second.

Made: Many writers do not like to index because they don't know how. It
never feels good to be doing a lousy job. After training tech writers who
have been indexing for years, I know that most writers do not pick up the
basics by experience. They continue to make the same mistakes. (Using
subentries with the same page nos. [Yes, this is a mistake]. Listing the
product's features instead of the user's tasks). Writers and indexers work
from different perspectives.
Solution: Get some training. I give a one-day basic course that is
available on video. I give a public two-day technical indexing course that
is available in the Boston area. I offer on-site training in some areas.
Other training opportunities are listed on the American Society of Indexers
Web page: (I believe another indexer/trainer
has already posted here)

BTW, keywording on-line help is still indexing. It requires even more
discipline and skill than back-of-the-book indexing.

Anyone wanting more information can e-mail me. If you're interested in
indexing, feel free to call.

Susan Holbert
24 Harris Steet
Waltham, MA 02154-6105
susanh -at- world -dot- std -dot- com
"Training workshops and videos"

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