Academia Advice

So You Think You Want To Index?

I’ve indexed both book projects I’ve been involved with, my solo-authored book, Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics (PSU, 2014) and the co-edited volume Ancient Rhetorics + Digital Networks (Alabama, 2018) with Michele Kennerly. Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way–as I put it to someone else considering hiring out their indexing: Who knows your book better than you?

Below, I’ve broken down how I indexed these two books without, well, breaking down. Each time, it took me 3 pretty full workdays–so that’s what you’re signing up for. But, at the end of it, you’ll have a pretty good index! There are a number of decent guides to indexing which are findable through some basic searching, so I won’t cover those here (although searching for “index your book” draws up the auto-suggestion of “never index your own book,” so…)

Basically, my process tries to hybridize computer vision and human vision in order to create an index that is both selective, reflective, and appropriately deflective (with apologies to KB). By using a word frequency program, you can get an accurate reflection of the words used in the book–computer vision is far better than human vision in this case. When I did this for Ancient Rhetorics + Digital Networks, I was surprised to see the following words pop up with some frequency: affordances, animals, beauty, circulation, demos, emergence, encounter, flow…well, you get the idea. A word frequency count can surface themes that you, the person most intimately involved with the book, can’t really perceive, as was the case here–it’s rather amazing to trace these words through the chapters, and I wouldn’t have identified them as indexable themes without the frequency count guiding me. The combination of “distant reading” of the text and your own immersion in the text is what you need to make a good index.

That said, no one has ever come up to me and said, “By the clouds, your index–as I thumbed through it, tears began welling up in my eyes. All beauty shall henceforth be compared to these 9 2 column pages.” I am, however, an index snob, and have pretty strong feelings about what a good and bad index looks like. In other words, get a salt shaker out.


Wise Words on Stage Fright

Hat tip to CW.