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Our contracts generally require that authors act as their own indexers, given the nature of the books they are writing. An index submitted with the typescript greatly enhances the efficiency of the production process, and authors are asked wherever possible to index their books at this early stage, rather than waiting for their proofs to be issued. Index entries should be keyed to typescript pages, and altered to proof page numbers when the proofs of the book are available. Indexes compiled at proof stage are liable to hold the book up in mid-production, often causing costly delays, and we try to avoid this wherever possible by asking you to supply the index with the typescript.

On the whole indexing is a question of common sense, and consistency is the only inflexible rule. There follows for your convenience a brief guide to indexing:

Making an Index

The purpose of your index is to help readers find their way round your book. Only key concepts and names should be indexed; an index that is over-detailed is not useful, and may deter a potential reader.

Most monographs need only one index, although certain kinds of books (on law, textual criticism, linguistics, religious texts, or large histories, for example) may require two or three (an index of subjects, index of names, index of passages cited). If you think your book might warrant more than one index, please consult your editor.

The software for an indexing program is available for most word processors, but the author still has to make the final choice about which entries to include, of course. If you do not have access to such a program, it is easiest to use index cards, each card containing one entry. This means that the index can easily be kept in alphabetical order as it progresses and there is room to expand individual entries.

When the index is complete it should be typed, double-spaced, with the relevant page numbers from the typescript (or proof) given beside the entry. Each subentry should be indented below the main entry. It is possible that in the published version the subentries will be run-on, but for ease of working we require that at this stage they should be set off from one another.

General content

Keep the index simple. The index should contain topics as well as proper names; but do not index passing mentions that give no information about the topic or person. It is useful to put yourself in the position of your potential readers and consider what they are likely to look for in the index.

It is, however, better to start by over-indexing than by under-indexing: it is far quicker to delete an unwanted entry than to chase back through the text for an entry that turns out to be necessary.

There is no need to index the foreword or preface unless it gives information pertinent to the subject of the book. Footnotes should be indexed only if they give additional information about a topic or person not mentioned elsewhere on that page. Endnotes should be indexed only if they contain substantive information. A reference to an endnote requires the note number as well as the page on which it occurs, thus: 212 n.5.

Bibliographies and lists of references are not indexed, though a list of references can be used as an author index with the addition of page numbers. Illustrations should usually be indexed, with their page numbers printed in italic.

Choice of heading

The headword should be the principal noun rather than an adjective/adjectival phrase or verb:

agriculture, decline of, not decline of agriculture novels, Victorian, not Victorian novels

How specific an entry should be depends very much on the subject of the book. In a book on nineteenth- century London it would be unhelpful to have an entry under 'London' because the entry would have to be so long and complicated that it would become unwieldy. It would be more practical to have entries on the aspects of London that are discussed in the book: 'churches', 'sanitation', 'hospitals', etc.

Where there are two or more possible synonyms, use the one the reader is most likely to look up, and put all the relevant page numbers in that entry. Under the synonym put a cross- reference 'see so and so'. Be careful not to have too many cross-references - your reader will be able to work out where most things are likely to be indexed.

Treat similar entries in a similar fashion. In a book that discusses countries, for example, be consistent:

Correct Incorrect
  • industry
  • trade
  • industry
  • trade
  • Spanish industry
  • Spanish trade

When to combine entries

If a word is used in both singular and plural forms in the text, only one form should be used in the index:

Correct Incorrect
  • duties
  • income
  • bishops, duties of
  • bishops, income of

This rule does not apply, of course, if the two forms have different meanings, e.g. damage, damages.

When a word has more than one meaning, there should be a separate entry for each meaning, with an explanatory phrase to show which meaning is intended.

Proper names that merely share the same first word should each have their own entry:

  • Booth, John Wilkes not Booth
  • Booth, William John Wilkes
  • William

Proper names

References to a peer should be collected under either the title or the family name, whichever is the more familiar to the reader; if both forms are used in the book, or the peerage is a recent one, provide a cross-reference from the other form. This principle applies to any person or place known by more than one name.

Saints, kings and popes are indexed under their forenames, but places, institutions, acts of Parliament, book and play titles, etc. are placed under the first word after the article:

  • William IV, king of England (but King William Street)
  • Lewis, John (but John Lewis Partnership Ltd)
  • Abortion Act, The
  • Importance of Being Earnest, The

(No entry should begin with 'a' or 'the' except in an index of first lines.)

Compound personal names, whether hyphenated or not, should be indexed under the first element of the surname:

Vaughan Williams, Ralph

In French, Italian and German names a preposition follows the name, but an article or compound of preposition and article (La, Du, Des) precedes the name. Names naturalised in Britain or the United States are usually indexed under the prefix:

  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von but
  • De Quincey, Thomas


Any entry containing more than about six page references should be subdivided, though you should not make a entry for every page number. A single reference covering a span of more than about ten pages (e.g. '110-25') should probably be subdivided.

Sub-entries and sub-sub entries should be arranged alphabetically (prepositions don't count in this respect) rather than in a 'logical' or 'chronological' order.

Cross-references should be the final sub-entry in a group of sub-entries:

  • cigar makers,
  • cigar makers, 11, 67-72
  • labour of, 73-8
  • machinery of, 114-17
  • unions of, 20-6
  • see also cigarettes; outwork

Page numbers

Avoid passim unless there are a large number of general reference to a person or topic in one section of a book. Distinguish between 65-6 (a continuous discussion of the topic) and 65, 66 (two separate mentions). Try to avoid indexing a whole chapter, but if it is unavoidable give the span of page numbers, not 'ch. 6'.

Before you submit the index, check that it is the length agreed between you and your editor. If the style and form of the index do not reach the standard required by the Press, we may have to return it to you for amendment.

For a general view on the design and layout of your index, consult other recent books in your subject area published by Cambridge.