Skip to Content

Preparing an index

WritersServices Self-publishing

British Standard  ISO 999:1996 defines an index as 'a systematic arrangement of entries designed to enable users to locate information in a document'.


Most books need only one index (a subject index, or a combined subject and names index), although some specialised books may require an index of names as well as an index of subjects. 

An index goes after the main text. It should not be confused with a table of contents or chapter headings which precede the text. However every book is an individual and you, as the author (and publisher), have to decide what is appropriate.


An index enables readers to search for terms, half-remembered quotes or names. One or more good indexes are an excellent way to promote the utility of some types of work.  Unless you are dealing with fiction, you would probably benefit from having at least one index.

You may well be the best person to provide the index as you know your way round the book better than anyone else and know what the reader is most likely to want to look up. There are, however, professional indexers who can undertake the task if you lack the time, expertise or inclination.

A good indexer:

  • Has the mind of a systems analyst so can select the key concepts for the index.
  • Knows the subject so is able to identify the significance of words.
  • Can empathise with potential readers.

An outsider might also provide a new perspective on your work. WritersServices indexing service


Page numbers cannot be inserted until the book has been typeset. However, modern indexers use sophisticated software to help them produce an index.  This allows them to provide the information in the format specified by the designer.

A good moment to list the items for your index is when you do one of the final reads. You will need to provide the index to the designer as part of the manuscript. If your book is to be published through WritersServices Self Publishing, you can if you wish decide to work from a proof copy of the book, but you will have to pay the revision fee when you have prepared the index. This increases the cost and will delay publication.

How much space?

As a rule of thumb the index of an academic book might occupy 10-15% of the page count. For a 'trade' book 5% of the text pages for an index based on a two- column setup for the index.

The purpose of the index is to help readers find their way round your book. Only key concepts and names should be indexed. An over-detailed index is not always helpful so preparing an index is not a trivial task.

There are 2 stages involved in making an index:

  1. Assemble the words. It is possible that you might want an index of names or places separate from the main index. However, even with the aid of software, this is a lot of work.
  2. Put in the page references. There is software to help this process but, alas, the page numbers you need exist inside the graphic design software which does not have suitable software to help you with this.

Tips & Conventions

  • The key word should be a noun rather than an adjective:
    • Thus 'Books, production of, French'
    • not 'Production of books' & 'French books'
  • Arrange the words alphabetically (prepositions don't count) either:
    • Word by word
    • Letter by letter
Word by word

gas burner
gas pipes
gas tap

Letter by letter

gas burner
gas pipes
gas tap

  •  Avoid or ignore prepositions.
  • Ignore the definite article: 'Bible', 'Koran' not 'The Bible' or 'The Koran'.
  • Book titles are listed under the first word after the definite article.
  • If you have more than 5 sub-entries, try to divide them with another index entry.
  • A list of acronyms or abbreviations used in your book is useful but can be incorporated into the index.
  • The foreword, bibliographies, preface and any page of copy about the book are not indexed.
  • Avoid the temptation to list in chronological order.
    • So 'Book; copy-edit, edit, print, write'.
    • not  'Book; write, edit, copy-edit, print'.
  • Integrity requires you to index those whose work has a major impact on your book or whom you quote directly.
  • An entry should not start with a capital letter unless it is a proper name.
  • Illustrations might have their own index or else be distinguished by printing the page number in italic.
  • Cross-references can be useful.
    • Book; copy-edit, edit, print, write see also Novels, Editions

If someone prepares an index for you, they are entitled to assert their copyright so this needs to form part of any agreement. What youwant, if you are a self-publisher, is a royalty-free right to use the index in exchange for a fee.

For a detailed description of how to make an index:

Making an index using Word®

For a review of three indexing software packages:

Index Creation Software

Some links

Society of indexers (UK)


WritersServices indexing service

Back to Pre-production


Does your book deserve the attentions of a professional  copy editor?

Writers Services offers a full range of editorial services.

Glossary & Acronyms

Home   Newsletter   What's involved? Glossary & Acronyms Some WPS titles Worldwide distribution

Main topic index

  1. Work out the design and set up cost
  2. Unit cost business & marketing plans
  3. Book order form and payment page

You are off to a very good marketing start with WPS as we link all our titles into Amazon and several of the biggest book distributors so your book can be ordered, delivered and the money collected worldwide.

Choose WPS as your publishing partner.

We operate from the UK and under the financial rules and regulations of the UK