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Inputting an Index in InDesign

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by Joel Friedlander, Book Designer


Nonfiction books almost always need an index. That’s one thing people in the book business generally agree on. Another is that the right person to create an index is a skilled professional who knows that an index is constructed from the concepts behind the terms and people cited within a book and who understands how readers will use this customized “search” section.

By cross-referencing other, related topics, a professional indexer achieves an integration of citations and underlying ideas that’s hard to replicate, even in the age of Google. For sure, word processing software can’t do the whole job.

Happily, the American Society for Indexing has a tool for zeroing in on indexers who are likely to be best for any given book; you can access its find-an-indexer locator via bit.ly/1eNhFGE.

But formatting the index your indexer provides can be challenging. How do you deal with the entries, subentries, and indentation plans for a typical nonfiction book? No matter what’s included or not included in an index, no matter how the entries are cross-referenced, and no matter what other concerns arise, you can create a standard index in Adobe InDesign. What follows walks you through the process.

Know the Elements

Indexes usually include elements that are formatted differently, such as:

Index title. This should be styled the same way as titles on opening pages of other front or back matter (for example, the Contents page).

Alpha navigators. Grouping index entries under each letter of the alphabet is the standard way to organize an index, and the alpha navigators show where each alphabetic group starts.

Entries. The basic unit of the index, an entry refers to a word or concept in the book and says where it can be found.

Subentries. Very simple indexes have only one “level” of entries—main entries—which all register as equally major. Most indexes include entries that are subsets of the main entries, and complex indexes can have two, three, or more levels of subentries.

Cross-references. These appear in main entries in the form of “See” or “See also” instructions that point to related concepts.

Jumps. Entries that run into a second column or page usually include a flag such as “(continued).”

Once you get the file from your indexer into InDesign, you’ll need to format each of these elements.

Assign and Map Styles

Typically, the files indexers provide include formatting information that tells which entries are main entries and which are subentries. Indexers use dedicated programs such as Cindex indexing software, which can export indexes in Rich Text Format, QuarkXPress, InDesign, plain text, or tagged text.

You need to assign paragraph styles to the various index elements and levels, taking into account the software used, the format the file was exported to, and whatever your workflow involves.

You might want to do this through InDesign’s Import Options dialog (check the box for “Show Import Options” when you go to Place the file) or however you usually assign styles to text files. InDesign gives you a lot of choices, including format-dependent searches along with Import Options. Some people prefer manual formatting. The important thing is to make sure you map your paragraph styles accurately to the styles or tags included in the index file.

(Don’t forget that once you get the file placed in InDesign, you need to replace the local formatting—usually indexes have a lot of italics—with character styles.)

Establish Levels, Set Indents

Probably the most confusing part of formatting an index is dealing with indentation. All entries should use what’s called a hanging indent, so that the first line of each entry will be longer than subsequent lines, which are more deeply indented.

But how much?

That depends on how many levels of entries you have. For reasons I’ll explain in a minute, I use a fairly small indent, usually 9 points (.125 inches and usually known as 1/8 inch).

IBPA-index-1 copyThis is what an index with only one level of entries might look like:

Okay, so how about a more professional two-level index? The second-level entries have to be indented so they appear underneath the main entries and are obviously subsidiary to main entries. And you have to take this into account when you set the indentation for main entries, so that readers won’t get confused.

Placing main entries at the left margin, you can indent subentries slightly from that margin, and indent all turnover lines for both levels to the same point (turnover lines being the second and succeeding lines in any one index entry).

Here’s how that looks.IBPA-index-2 copy

Once you understand this principle, you can apply it exactly the same way to an index with three levels or even more. I’ve done several of these over the past couple of months and now you know why I pick a fairly small increment for indents. If I didn’t, I would end up with an impossibly short line by the time I got to a third-level entry.IBPA-index-3 copy

Format Other Elements

You can get creative with alpha navigators if you like. You might use your display typeface for these standalone letters, add a rule above or below to more clearly point to the alphabetical breaks, or simply add a little space to separate one section of entries from another. Make sure you set your “Keep” options correctly so this element doesn’t separate from the first entry beneath it.

IBPA-index-4Standard style, which is best for cross-references, dictates that all directional words—“See” and “See also”—appear in italics.

2015-09 IBPA Magazine-Final (dragged)-page-001 (2)When an entry “jumps” to another column or page, the mention of that takes the form “[Entry name] (continued)” with the word continued (but not the parentheses) in italics.

IBPA-index-6Page ranges should use real en-dashes (Option-hyphen on a Mac, Alt-hyphen in Windows), not hyphens.

Capitalize on the Work You’ve Done

Formatting an index can be a complex piece of work, but here’s a pro tip that should help. Because InDesign lets you copy Paragraph Styles from one document to another, you don’t have to keep repeating calculations. Instead, whenever you start a new book, just copy part of an index you’ve already done into your new book file, and all the styles will copy along with the text. You can then adjust the fonts to match the current book and you’ll be good to go right away.

And here’s another pro tip: Create a library of styles you use often, either with InDesign’s Library feature, or with an InDesign document you create as a place to store them for future use.

Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, an award-winning book designer, and an accomplished blogger. The founder of the Self-Publishing Roadmap online training course, he speaks frequently at industry events about how new publishing tools can help publishers and authors reach and inspire readers. To learn more: jfbookman.com.

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