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Guide to indexing

Responsibility for generating an index should have already been discussed with your Press editor. If you’re not sure if you should generate an index please check your contract.

The main purpose of an index is to help readers find their way around the book. Only key concepts and names should be indexed. As a guide to length, the index should be around 3–5% of the total number of printed pages, but this will vary greatly depending on the subject.

Most books only need one index, although some specialised books may have an index of names as well as a subject index.

For more detailed notes on how to generate an index, see:

Indexing in Word

Indexing in LaTeX


  • Keep the index simple and useful. Do not index passing mentions which give no information about the topic or person. Put yourself in the position of your potential readers and consider what terms they are likely to look up, and ensure they won’t be disappointed when turning to a listed page.
  • Do not index anything in the prelims (including the preface) or the references.
  • If you wish to index a figure, the entry should appear in bold.
  • Unfamiliar abbreviations or acronyms should be spelled out in full.


ARIES (Arizona infrared imager and echelle spectrograph)

  • More common abbreviations or acronyms do not need spelling out in the index.

Choice of heading

  • No entry should begin with ‘a’ or ‘the’. Main headings should normally be nouns rather than adjectives or verbs on their own.


soil, erosion of, not erosion of soil

squirrel, grey, not grey squirrel

  • How specific an entry should be depends on the subject of the book. In a book on ocean biology it would be unhelpful to have an entry under ‘ocean’ because the entry would become too long and unwieldy. It would be more helpful to have entries on the topics about oceans which are discussed in the book: ‘corals’, ‘seaweed’, ‘sharks’, etc.
  • Where there are two or more possible synonyms, put the page numbers against the entry the reader is most likely to look up. Under the synonym put a cross-reference.


glad see pleased

  • Try not to include too many cross-references.
  • Be consistent with your entries. For example, in a book which discusses countries, ensure the entries are listed consistently:






    climate      not Spanish climate

    vegetation not Spanish vegetation


  • Only proper nouns should be capitalised in the index. All other entries should be listed in lower case as they appear in the text.


  • If an entry is mentioned briefly over several pages but is not the main subject being discussed, it should be indexed as separate page entries (or points).


polar orbit 5, 6, 7

  • If the subject is continuously discussed over several pages, it should be indexed as a span, using an en-rule.


polar orbit 5–7

  • Page numbers may be shortened. The system used must be consistent.


15–17, 63–67, 125–126, 157–165

15–17, 63–7, 125–6, 157–65

15–17, 63–67, 125–26, 157–65


  • Sub-entries are used for two main reasons:

    (1) To show aspects of the topic, e.g. pollution, effect on bird population

    (2) To break up long strings of page numbers.

  • An entry containing more than about six page numbers should be subdivided.
  • Sub-entries should be arranged alphabetically (prepositions don’t count) rather than in a ‘logical’ or ‘chronological’ order. Cross-references should be the final sub-entry in a group of sub-entries.


woodland, 11, 35, 153–62

   conifer 51, 170–73

   coppicing 52, 53

   deciduous 8, 265

   see also forest

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 kind of terms to index, consult other recent books in your subject area published by Cambridge.