Index a Book Using Word and Excel

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11 Responses

  1. This is fascinating–I work as a freelance writer and editor, but did not realise that you could use Excel to create an index. Thank you!

  2. Dustin says:

    Devaki: Neither did I! Until I had to figure out how to do it.

    The funny thing is, before I was born my mother was a professional indexer. SO I figured, “well, I’ll just ask her how to do it”. Big mistake. First of all, what happened 40-odd years ago wasn’t exactly fresh in her mind. Second of all, index cards were high-tech back then, so that’s what they used (which is, I guess, why they’re called *index* cards). Go through the book, make a note of each instance of a usage on an index card; when done, arrange the cards and type up your index.

    The thought of doing that makes me cry.

    Then there’s “indexing” software, which is kind of expensive and doesn’t really make an index. It makes what is called (if I remember right) a “concordance”, which is simply a list of where every word in the text appears. You could conceivably do this, trim out all the unnecessary words, and have something *like* an index — but it won’t be very useful.

    Consider this website, for example. If there were a word index for this site, you’d want the entry for “index” to point to this post, and not to every post in which I might have mentioned “so I checked the index” or “so I wrote it on an index card” or “the time you work is an index of how much you get done” (Which I don’t believe! I’m just making stuff up here!) or whatever. That is, you want the index to take you to the posts/pages that really discuss the topic you’re interested in, not every single page that mentions a word in passing.

    So this is what I came up with. Hopefully it helps someone else out. Or someone has a better way of doing it that they’ll share with us.

  3. Jack Lyon says:

    > Or someone has a better way of doing it
    > that they’ll share with us.


  4. Fran Macdonald says:

    Very useful information. Thanks so much for sharing it. I do freelance editing but have shied away from indexing as too hard, but your system looks managable. One question: how much time do you think it takes to index, say, a 100,000 word book? Or does it depend on the detail in the index? This would be useful to know for quoting prices in advance. (I imagine it’s time-consuming.)

  5. Dustin says:

    Fran: I didn’t really keep track at the time — I’d say it was 3 or 4 long, intense days of work, and a couple of extra hours hre and there. I did the initial collection of terms as I was proofing the proofs, so I suppose that saves some time from your life as a whole, although you’re still scouring proofs of a book you’ve already read a half-dozen times and are pretty much tired of.

  6. mbear says:

    There are several good articles about indexing, controlled vocabularies, and faceted classification at the Boxes and Arrows website.

    In particular, you may find the Improving Usability with a Website Index article (and its references) very useful.

    You may also find these articles interesting:
    The ABCs of the BBC: A Case Study and Checklist The “For More Information” section at the end is excellent.
    All About Facets & Controlled Vocabularies (Deals with see also and such.)

  7. carlic says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your system. I’m a graduate student and got a job indexing a book – I’d never done it before. I used your system and it worked wonderfully. You really saved me hours of trial and error.

  8. Michelle says:

    Just a quick question – how long would you estimate this process took you? (i.e. how many hours for, say, 50 pages of text?)

  9. Dustin Wax says:

    Michelle: It was quite a while ago now, so I can’t remember exactly, but it was probably about 20 hours all together for a 200-page proof.

  10. trisetneer says:

    its only 700 i did and it took me 72 hours

  1. July 3, 2008

    […] Index a Book Using Word and Excel (tags: book writing publishing) […]