On compiling an Index

This week I have been wondering what bad deeds I did in past lives in order to be stuck at my desk, squinting at a pdf of my book, trying to compile and populate an index. It is far from my favourite task – that perfect combination of really hard work and really really boring. The names and texts and simple references are fine, but I struggle to work out what to include and what not to include, and then how to sub-divide those entries that are all over the place. I can’t just list “Buddha”, or “gods”, or “Indra”, but must find a way to break them up into sensible sub-entries.

It has taken over my brain to the extent that I found myself quietly alphabetising the keywords in sentences my husband was saying to me last night.



tea: chai; decaf green; mint; real; see also coffee


I also found myself indexing in my dreams. Never a good experience…

Alphabetising is actually something I struggle with. Given that nowadays my dictionary use tends to be for Sanskrit and Pāli, I really do have to sing my English alphabet to myself as I work on putting terms in order.

Technology has also been taxing. I had to do proof corrections in Adobe, but for some reason Adobe couldn’t recognise any words with diacritical marks as words, making it impossible to search for my index terms. So I switched to Preview. All well and good, except for the crashes. Oh, and the point where, when indexing, I spot a correction, and have to shut down the document in Preview, open it in Adobe, make the correction, shut it again and open in Preview…. Still, it’s a lot better than index cards I suppose!

The trouble is, much as I hate the process of compiling an index (and I have compiled five of them in the past six years!) I can’t quite bring myself to let someone else do the work. For a start I would worry about how they would choose the terms, especially those related to themes and concepts. And then there’s the language issue, with many of the entries in Indic languages with their complex spellings. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, indexing has led to me spotting a number of spelling errors or inconsistencies in the main text. Could I really trust someone else to know that Śibi and Śivi are the same person, but that the Vasu gods are different to King Vasu? As for choosing the sub-divisions for entries, I really don’t see how anyone other than the author could do this.

But perhaps I am just a control freak, and should relax and try a professional indexer next time. Or maybe I should just stop writing books 🙂




About naomiappleton

I work in the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh, where I research and teach subjects related to South and Southeast Asian religions.
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2 Responses to On compiling an Index

  1. jayarava says:

    A good index is really important to a successful book. I appreciate the effort you are putting into it.

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