Indexing Made Easy

By, Aparna Mudaliar

As a Technical Writer, are you often in a state of confusion and uncertainty when indexing your content? If your answer is yes, then this article is for you! Here are a few guidelines that will help you generate smart index entries. Moreover, these guidelines will also help you maintain consistency across the index.

You might ask yourself the following questions before starting the process.

Which Parts of a Document Do I Index?

Do’s Don’ts
  • Index the main body of the chapters
  • Index the preface if it contains important information such as prerequisites, hardware requirements, and so on
  • Index the appendixes if they provide additional information about the topics that are documented in the chapters
  • Do not index the common elements of the front matter:
    • title page
    • copyright
    • table of contents
  • Do not index the common elements of the back matter:
    • glossary
    • bibliography

Which Topics Do I Index?

Do’s Don’ts
  • Index the task-oriented topics that explain users how to accomplish a task
  • Index the conceptual topics that provide prerequisite or additional information to accomplish a task
  • Index the cautions, notes, tips, or restrictions that provide important information to the user
  • Index the topics that explain terminology
  • Do not index the obvious tasks. These obvious tasks have their own independent task-oriented topics. For example, tasks such as creating, deleting, copying, and so on
  • Do not index the topic that merely mentions the term

How Do I Select the Keywords?

  • For conceptual topics, specify the keyword in the noun form
  • Use the plural form if the keyword does not represent a unique entity
  • Include a modifier before the noun wherever possible
    Correct Incorrect
    user roles        11

    user groups    12

    roles    11

    groups  12

  • For task-oriented topics, specify the keyword as an action with the gerund (ing) form of the verb
  • Do not use heading titles that represent the tasks as index entries
    configuring data profiles                     22 configure data profiles  22
    sequencing role definitions                 20 sequencing a role definition                20

How Do I Index Acronyms and Abbreviations?

Use double-posted entries for indexing these items:

  • abbreviated forms
  • acronyms
  • spelled-out forms
    Correct Incorrect
    Extraction, Transformation, and Loading (ETL)         3

    ETL (Extraction, Transformation, and Loading)         3

    ETL 3

    Extraction, Transformation, and Loading  3

How Do I Index Inversions and Synonyms?

  • Use double-posted entries to indicate inversion of terms
    Correct Incorrect
    data loading     85
    loading data     85
    data loading     85
  • Use cross-references to indicate synonyms. For example, you can add an index entry to indicate that data profiles and table profiles are synonyms. Note that the cross referencing index entry does not include the page number
    Correct Incorrect
    data profiles
    assigning        22
    configuring     24
    table profiles
    see data profiles
    data profiles

    assigning 22

    configuring 24

    table profiles

    assigning 22

    configuring 24

How Do I Index Special Characters?

  • Use double-posted entries to index special characters. example, you can index currency symbols using double-posted entries
    Correct Incorrect
    ¥ (Yen sign)   105
    Yen sign (¥)   105
    ¥ 105

What Formatting Styles Do I Apply?

  • Use lowercase preferably
  • Do not use lowercase if the term itself is in uppercase or sentence case
    Correct Incorrect
    Basic Properties pane         20

    bulk loading                         30

    CHART procedure              45

    basic properties pane   20

    Bulk loading                  30

    chart procedure            45

  • Restrict to two-level nesting of index entries, primary entry and secondary entry
    Correct Incorrect

    defining                       10

    removing                     22


    defining                                                 10

    removing non-essential constraints  22

  • Individually list all the second level entries
    Correct Incorrect
    centrality measures

    degree-in  101

    degree-out 101

    centrality measures

    degree-in and degree-out       101

  • Specify conjunctions, prepositions, or articles at the end of the sub entries
    Correct Incorrect
    degree centrality

    overview of         62

    parameters for     65

    role expressions and 66

    degree centrality

    overview         62

    parameters    65

    and role expressions  66

How Do I Index Just Enough?

  • Do not over-index. For example, do not repeat secondary entries for each primary entry
    Correct Incorrect
    correction loads                      21, 22, 25

    incremental loads                   25, 26, 28

    correction loads

    prerequisites   21

    workflow steps 22

    parameters    25

    incremental loads

    prerequisites   25

    workflow steps 26

    parameters    28

  • Do not under-index. For example, do not exclude important features that can be marked as secondary entries
    Correct Incorrect
    regulatory reports

    generating  20

    reviewing   21

    authorizing 22

    submitting  25

    regulatory reports       20-25
  • Do not index adjacent entries that are very similar. Retain one of them
    Correct Incorrect
    deploying jobs  21 deploy option   21

    deploying jobs  21

How Do I Review My Index Entries?

  • Maintain a checklist to ensure that you follow all the guidelines
  • Focus on the primary and secondary entries first. Subsequently, remove redundant entries and evaluate the index as a whole
  • Make sure that you use consistent terminology across all your entries
  • Request one of your peers who is unfamiliar with your content to review your index entries

About the Author

Aparna Mudaliar works as a senior technical writer with SAS R&D, Pune, India. She is currently working on user documentation and embedded user assistance for Flex-based web applications. She has keen interest in practicing meditation, participating in marathons, and cooking something exotic. You can reach her at aparnatw2001@gmail.com.


  1. Aparna, thank you for such an informative article.

    • Thank you, Farheen! I’m glad that you find it useful!

  2. It was a good refresher…the basics were touched upon

  3. Nice and informative article. Provides really good guidelines for indexing. Thanks for the article, Aparna.

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