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Indexes are created to help people find information. Indexers work hard to find the best words to describe the topics covered by their books and collections. This book is an aid to decision making in indexing. It aims to look at decisions that indexers have to make everyday. Many book indexers are created by professional indexers, but others are made by authors and editors. Indexing is part of their job for librarians, museum curators, technical writers and subject specialists. The book provides something of value for all indexers.

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Editorial Reviews

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'The Indexing Companion is a well-titled and valuable book. … A strong point of the book is its structure and organisation of tis contents.' Webology
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521689885
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 262
  • Product dimensions: 6.85 (w) x 9.72 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Glenda Browne has been an indexer and librarian for 20 years. She teaches indexing for various universities, colleges and professional associations, and writes regularly for the ANZSI Newsletter and the international journal, The Indexer.

Jon Jermey is also a freelance indexer, teacher and writer. He currently teaches computing for WEA (Workers' Education Association).

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Cambridge University Press
ISBN not found - The Indexing - Companion - by GLENDA BROWNE JON JERMEY

The Indexing Work Environment

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.

   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

   indexing is a crucial and widespread activity, but it is inconspicuous. Documents need indexes to help people find specific information within them, and collections need indexes to help people locate specific items they contain. Although most people use indexes regularly, hardly anyone thinks of the creative activity that went into their making. Despite inroads being made by computers, most indexes are still created by humans.

   An index is a systematic guide that helps people find information in a document, such as a book, or documents in a collection, such as records in an archive. In addition to the terms that represent the topics of the document or collection item, an index also needs a syntax that allows expression of complex topics, such as a heading with subheadings; cross-references to lead from terms to other potentially useful terms; locators, such as page numbers, or links to lead users to information about the terms they select; and a way of filing the headings or making them searchable.

   A glossary is not an index, because it does not link from its entries to other content. Aconcordance – an alphabetised list of words in a document – is not a true index because it simply lists words and phrases from the text, without analysis. Much the same is true of search engine ‘indexes’, which rely on the actual words in a document. A table of contents is not an index because it mimics the sequence of the material in the book, rather than providing an alternative view.

   This chapter introduces the industry and the people who provide the context for the indexing process. Indexers need to know how to work with editors and authors, how to manage a business effectively, and how to create quality indexes quickly. Authors contribute the text – the clearer the writing and argument, the easier the job of indexing. Book authors usually have to provide indexes to their works, either by creating them or paying indexers to do so. Authors of periodical articles and intranet content may provide keywords for their writings (although these are often edited), while authors of articles in bibliographical databases have no role at all in indexing.

   Book editors plan the indexing requirements; write briefs for indexers and occasionally index works themselves. Most other indexing projects have someone with the role of editor or project manager who coordinates the indexing and ensures the quality of the final product, especially when more than one person has contributed to the indexing.

   All steps in the indexing process should take into account the needs of the end user. In some cases the typical user can be identified, but in others the indexing has to be appropriate for a wide range of users.


My biggest success to date has been convincing my mother-in-law that indexing is really, really cool.

   Seth Maislin, 2004

   It is said that people study library science because they love books, but soon discover that they mainly deal with the covers of books. Indexers are more fortunate, in that we usually have to read the texts we are indexing. Indexers create indexes – A to Z lists of important topics – for virtually every type of document that exists. These indexes are a crucial key to detailed information.

   Indexing is a very small profession. Most indexers train as librarians or editors, others as records managers or technical writers. A few learn the job from family and friends. It sounds like a paradox, but specialist indexers today are usually generalists. That is, they bring their indexing skills to bear on a wide variety of materials and subjects.

   Book indexers tend to be employed by publishers or authors on a freelance basis rather than full time, although a few regular clients can keep an indexer in full-time work. Periodical indexers also tend to be freelancers, and may work throughout the year developing indexes that are published at the end of the year. Many collection indexing jobs are full time, although indexing may be only part of the person’s job. Some indexers work with a wide range of formats, especially if they have learnt a variety of indexing types, but others specialise in either books or collections, and have only a vague idea of the requirements of the other types of indexing.

   An indexer needs good general knowledge, the ability to grasp new concepts quickly, curiosity, attention to detail, interest in linguistic issues, and the ability to see things from somebody else’s point of view. Although indexing jobs rarely have mandatory qualifications, most indexers have one or two degrees and at least forty years’ life experience. Age is no bar to freelance indexing, but Kingsley Siebel once wrote to one of the authors (9 August 1996) that he was progressing well in a job application until he wrote his date of birth – 1917. No-one had known he was a near octogenarian, and this put them off.

   Many writers have discussed the traits that make a good indexer, and a remarkable number find it a suitable task for prisoners. For example, ‘a public-spirited contributor to The Nation’ in 1883 suggested:

Let all convicts who can read and write be set, under competent supervision, to indexing books . . . the kind of labor proposed is peculiarly suited to the reformatory idea, being incomparable for teaching order, patience, humility, and for thoroughly eradicating the last trace of the Old Adam in whoever pursues it.

   [Collins 2001]

Learning to index

   The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.

Geoffrey Chaucer

   The best ways to learn to index are:

   • do a course run by one of the indexing societies or an online or video course (up-to-date details are available on society websites, including

   • study indexing within another course; some editing and librarianship courses include a component on indexing

   • learn on the job, in a library or a company

   • take part in a mentoring program such as the one run by ANZSI (McMaster 2005)

   • learn from an indexer who takes on ‘apprentices’ or offers training for payment

   • read the resources: standard indexing textbooks, the international journal The indexer, content on the indexing society websites, websites of practising indexers, and the Index Students website (

   • do practice indexes of well-indexed books (see the review excerpts in The indexer) and compare your results with theirs

   • subscribe to mailing lists (see below)

   • go to meetings of your local indexing society.

   The April 2002 and October 2005 issues of The indexer feature articles on education for indexing and getting started in indexing. Dawney Spencer (1998–2004) has written many articles for beginning indexers.

   Peer review by fellow indexers is a good form of feedback, especially for beginners. The Index Peer Reviewers discussion group ( com/group/IndexPeers) and colleagues in indexing societies may help, and some people pay for individual guidance. Some local indexing groups run peer review sessions in which you can get practical hints from other indexers. Martha Osgood (2004) writes that peer review can act both as a learning tool, through discussions of the application of indexing guidelines for different books, and as an editing tool, to bring an index up to professional standard prior to submitting to the publisher.

Societies of indexers

To learn something about everything and everything about something.

   Thomas Henry Huxley

   Many indexers work as freelancers. Some book indexers work in-house for large companies, especially legal publishers, or index as part of editing or technical writing jobs. Some database indexers work as librarians or for specialist companies, while others work from home on a contract basis. Most collection indexers work in museums, libraries, records offices and specialist companies.

   Because indexing is such a small profession, networking with colleagues is an essential part of being a professional. There are now societies of indexers in eight countries or regions:

   • Australia: Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers, ANZSI, previously AusSI –, soon to be

   • Canada: Indexing Society of Canada/Société canadienne d’indexation, ISC/SCI –

   China: China Society of Indexers, CSI – (in Chinese)

   • Germany: Deutsches Netzwerk der Indexer, DNI – welcome.html

   • The Netherlands: Nederlands Indexers Netwerk, NIN –

   • Southern Africa: Association of Southern African Indexers and Bibliographers, ASAIB –

   • United Kingdom and Ireland: Society of Indexers, SI –

   • United States: American Society of Indexers, ASI –

There was a society in Japan about ten years ago, but it no longer exists.

   Most of the societies provide:

   communication between members, including meetings, newsletters, websites, e-mailed announcements and blogs

   advice to potential indexers and to clients

   training in indexing and related topics

   promotion of indexing; for instance DNI runs a stall and indexers’ meeting at the Frankfurt Book Fair

   promotion of indexers’ services through a database or register of indexers.

   Experienced indexers also get a lot of their work through word of mouth, much of it through colleagues from their society.

   John Simkin (2005) has summarised the history of the Australian Society of Indexers (AusSI, now ANZSI with the inclusion of New Zealand) and Hazel Bell (1997–2000) has written on the history of all of the indexing societies.

   Indexers also join local societies of information scientists, secondary publishers, editors, technical writers, information architects, knowledge managers, and so on, depending on their specific interests.

Working for employers

Although freelance indexing is emphasised in indexing discussion groups, a number of book indexers work full-time for employers, often legal publishers. Editors of specialised publications such as cookbooks and technical writers of manuals and online help may also work in-house and spend some or all of their time indexing.

   Database indexers may work for national, State and specialist libraries that have a responsibility for managing a bibliographic database. These jobs appear to have been falling in number in recent years. Intranet and website teams may hire indexers or information architects as full-time staff or consultants.

   A few indexing companies, run by individuals, employ indexers for book and database indexing. They provide a collegial work environment and help to even out the individual’s flow of work.

   Full-time indexing jobs are advertised only occasionally, so they are easy to miss. Positions may be filled through internal promotion, word of mouth, or through employment agencies specialising in library and information work or technical writing.

   Indexers who work on large projects for employers are likely to be in a team. Teams can consist of one indexer working with a variety of other staff, or a number of indexers working on similar aspects of the one project. Teamwork may involve various kinds of collaboration:

   with other professionals: for instance, information architects and programmers on an intranet search engine

   with non-professionals who are working as indexers: for instance, authors of intranet content who are expected to provide subject metadata for their contributions

   with other indexers on an open-ended project: for instance, as one of a number of indexers for a bibliographic journal database

   with other indexers on a large job: for instance, as one of a number of indexers for a multivolume encyclopedia.

   Enid Zafran (in Perlman 2001: 67–70) has written about employing indexers as staff or subcontractors. See also Consistency in Chapter 8 and Encyclopedias and other multivolume works in Chapter 9.

Freelance indexing

To business that we love we rise betime
And go to’t with delight.

   William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

   Freelance indexing suits people who like choice and variety and can live with some uncertainty. It usually entails working from home, and provides independence, freedom from office politics, and the chance to set your own working hours. It requires self-discipline to get the work done – particularly the less-favoured parts of the work – and it can be difficult to balance personal and work life. Freelance indexers often work one or two days a week in another job to ensure some security of income and human contact. In China a freelancer is called ‘a person without a workgroup’.

   When Caroline Colton (1996) spoke to the NSW Society of Editors about indexing, the society light-heartedly offered a prize to the person who could identify Caroline’s star sign. Most picked her as a Virgo or Taurus, but Caroline replied:

I am an Aries – reckless. This is an essential characteristic of an indexer. Anyone who tries to make a living out of full-time indexing would have to be reckless, because it is a very small industry. It’s a bit like being a platypus; you can end up in a shrinking habitat. You have to be constantly conscious of marketing, of bringing work in, of having regular paying customers, of having a mixture of formats from books to journals to electronic publishing.

Small business management

Talk of nothing but business, and dispatch that business quickly.

   Aldus Manutius (1449–1515)

   To work effectively as a freelance indexer you have to develop small business skills as well as professional skills. You could do a small business course, read up on the topic, or consult an accountant. You will need to:

   build up a client base, and maintain a steady flow of interesting work

   quote realistically

   maintain adequate cash flow by pursuing prompt payment

   save for retirement

   manage your own computer maintenance and equipment

   maintain a safe workplace

   provide for training and professional development

   manage your time well, including slipped schedules and overlapping jobs (and know when to take time off)

   communicate with clients on the phone and online

   keep mandatory and useful records.

   The Business Entry Point website ( provides excellent introductory material on starting a business, home-based businesses and occupational health and safety. Janet Perlman (2001) provides a wealth of advice on running an indexing business.

   Records of the work you do are important for professional, business and legal reasons. Indexers have to record client details, including company style guides and special requirements. If you store templates in your indexing software according to each client’s stylistic and output requirements, you will be able to deal with these automatically. If you keep records of the jobs you have done, the person you dealt with, the amount you were paid and the time taken, you will find it easier to select the clients that pay best and to quote more effectively in future.

   Keep electronic copies of all the indexes you do in case you are asked to index later editions or similar works. When you deliver work ask the client to acknowledge receipt so you have a permanent record that the job was received. It may also be useful to ask for feedback on the job.

   Keep financial records of invoices and payments so you can chase up late payment and fulfil your tax obligations. Business records have to be kept for seven years in Australia. A contact management program and dedicated billing application such as QuickBooks or MYOB may be useful. See also Legal matters, below.

Managing freelance work

Drive thy business or it will drive thee.

   Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)

   Experienced indexers get most of their work from repeat clients, referrals from other indexers, and contacts through their listings on society websites. Many also do regular marketing to keep up a supply of new clients, who can fill gaps when clients disappear and provide an opportunity to say no to low-paying clients. Well-established indexers also start marketing again if they want to broaden their work to include other types of indexing, for instance, moving from book indexing to database or website indexing.

   Experience is the most important factor in getting a job. You can build up work samples by doing voluntary projects such as newsletters, procedure manuals, minutes, books without indexes, genealogical materials, and websites. Some people work for another indexer as a subcontractor or mentee (see above) to get experience while building up a client base. To increase the chances of finding work, network with indexers, editors, writers, information architects and other people involved in the fields you would like to index in. It may take three years to build up enough regular clients to fill your schedule.

   Marketing approaches should focus on any technical or subject skills you have. They can include:

   mailouts to publishers of a simple brochure about you and your indexing service, with details or samples of indexes you have created

   cold calls to editorial departments; first find out as much as you can about the person you should ask for, and the interests of the company

   combinations of mailouts and phone calls (‘I’m phoning to see if you received my mailout’) so your name is seen or heard several times within a short period

   a website with details of your training and experience, which may list the books and other works you have indexed, and link to sample indexes on the web (e.g., at when they are available

   including your name in your indexing society’s list of Indexers Available, and other directories as appropriate

   advertising in newsletters for authors and publishers, such as the Australian publication Thorpe weekly newsletter (the ‘blue newsletter’, au/products/products wbn.htm).

   Authors occasionally write to indexing mailing lists seeking quotes for a job. As many people usually respond it is often not worth the effort to quote. Project managers tendering for a job may ask an indexer to quote for the indexing part of it. If they fail to get the job, the indexer misses out. Janet Perlman (2001: 57–65) describes the writing of proposals for large indexing jobs.

   One of the hardest things about freelance indexing is estimating the fee to charge for a job. Indexing societies and colleagues can help by providing guidelines, but only experience can tell you how long a certain job is likely to take you. Given the economics of the publishing industry, there is often not enough money to pay the fee the indexer requests – in these cases a cheaper job can sometimes be negotiated. This can include leaving out certain items (e.g., names of cited authors) or doing a less detailed index overall.

   A rule of thumb is that an in-house employee costs the company their salary plus 40%. So if you would expect to earn $40 per hour in an in-house job, you should be earning $56 per hour as a freelancer, as well as charging for expenses. You then have to add 10% Goods and Services Tax in Australia (and similar in some other countries).

   The ANZSI recommended rate is $55 per hour. Technical indexing rates are often higher. Legal decisions in New South Wales aiming to reverse legally entrenched pay inequity based on the perceived breadwinner status of males have improved the pay of librarians, and may trickle on to indexers (Bonella 2003).

   Per-job quotes are common in Australia. Nonetheless, it is handy to have a per-page rate as a rule of thumb – ours is the rather broad $2 to $12 per page, with most jobs costing between $3 and $8 per page. In the United Kingdom many indexers charge per hour. The Society of Indexers (UK) recommends a rate of at least £17.50 per hour, which works out at approximately £2.00 per page for a straightforward index. They are planning to replace this with a more detailed grid approach. If you charge by the hour you might be asked to quote an upper limit as well as an hourly rate.

   The American Society of Indexers does not recommend a standard rate, but most indexers and publishers work with per-page rates, the average being about US$4.00. The ASI salary survey 2004 shows trends in indexing rates (

   When a per-page rate is automatically applied to all jobs, it does not take into account the complexity of the work or the number of words per page. The size of pages, the type size, the format (e.g., two-column), and the number of illustrations all affect the number of words. To better estimate the scope of jobs, some indexers count the number of words instead of pages. A rough guide is to charge one to two cents per word of text, so a 100,000-word book would cost $1000 to $2000 to index.

   Other indexers quote per index entry or locator. To do this effectively it helps to have an idea of the number of locators to be included in the final index. Indexing policies can affect the cost – some people would index 25, 26, 27 as three locators, whereas others would compress it to 25–27 and earn one-third as much. It is also important to clearly define ‘index entry’: some people regard each page number as one entry, but to others everything connected to one main heading is an entry (see Definitions in Chapter 2). Charges per locator range from 50c to $2.00, depending on the complexity of the text.

   An indexer’s quote is usually for the creation of a subject index. If the indexer has to attend meetings or undertake extra jobs, such as keyword lists for CD-ROM search or author indexes, these should be quoted for separately. In addition, extra work caused by last-minute changes to the text or pagination requires extra payment. Many indexers do the first two hours of editing free but then charge an hourly rate for other changes.

   Use of an index to a previous edition of the book may help with the selection of terms, but it usually makes little difference to the time taken to index a book. If there are only minor changes, it may be possible to edit the original index. This is best done by the original indexer, if they are available. If not, copyright and moral rights need to be considered.

   For big projects that are likely to take many months, add about 10% of the estimated cost to allow for contingencies, and invoice monthly (on presentation of work to date) to maintain cash flow. Indexers often ask for more elapsed time than they need so they can accept other projects along the way while working part-time on the major project. Some indexers ask for partial payment in advance when working directly for authors.

   Ongoing jobs such as journal or database indexing are more likely to be paid per hour or per piece (e.g., per article). Database indexers usually index between one and ten items per hour, depending on the number of fields that are required and the complexity of the subject matter.

   When they have completed an index, indexers send an invoice for the job. Number your invoices, and show your own name and contact details, the client’s name and contact details, a description of the work done, the payment formula (e.g., X pages at $Y per page) and payment requirements (e.g., within thirty days). In Australia you need to include your Australian Business Number, and the Goods and Services Tax if applicable.

   Although most clients are reliable and pay reasonably promptly, problems with payment may arise (as Oscar Wilde said: Genius is born – not paid). Typical situations include:

   An author is unhappy with the index and refuses to pay.

   An invoice gets lost on the way to the pay section.

   A company goes bankrupt – in which case, as unsecured creditors, freelance indexers are not likely to get paid.

   A company is taken over by another company that does not fulfil earlier obligations.

   The pay system is inefficient; some companies do cheque runs only one day per month, so if you miss that run you have to wait another month.

   Some approaches to speed payment are:

   Send a reminder with ‘Overdue’ in large letters.

   Send a letter of demand (you can view a sample at LegalInformation/DebtRecovery).

   Speak directly to staff in the pay section, reminding them about late fees.

   Claim copyright in the index and refuse to allow publication until you are paid.

   Take the case to a small claims court: the costs are relatively low and you do not need a lawyer.

   Use a mediation service, such as the one run by the Arts Law Centre of Australia (

   A contract or written agreement with clearly stated terms can make this process more straightforward. A purchase order is beneficial as it means that the expenditure has already been approved.

Legal matters

Legal matters of importance to indexers include contracts, insurance, copyright and moral rights.

   Some indexers use formal contracts for all jobs, but others rely on informal measures. Most make sure that they have a written (e-mailed) agreement covering:

   the agreed fee (plus GST) including charges for extra work

   timing and method for arrival of text, and sending of index

   expectations regarding the length, content, and style of the index

   any special expectations.

   Other matters you may wish to cover include your rights to proofread the index, to receive a complimentary copy of the work, and to be acknowledged as indexer and as owner of copyright in the index. Examples of formal contracts for indexing can be found at, pages.prodigy. net/jeanmidd/contract.html and

   Employ a legal adviser to explain any clauses that are not clear to you, and do not assume that clauses will not be imposed, or accept any verbal guarantees that go against the wording of the contract. Do not accept a clause that says your work shall be ‘satisfactory to the publisher’ unless an independent forum for mediation of disputes is also proposed.

   Clients may provide you with a contract to sign, especially for larger projects, which may include insurance requirements, confidentiality clauses and an agreement not to work for competitors.

   Insurance requirements can be impossible to comply with or very expensive, and often stop indexers from taking on jobs. They include:

   Workers’ compensation insurance: This is available only to registered companies.

   Professional indemnity insurance: This is expensive, and it has to be maintained long-term as it works on a claims-made basis – that is, you have to be insured at the time a claim is made, not just at the time the work was done.

   Public liability insurance: This is available through many home insurance policies, but does not always cover workplace-related injuries. Search for more information.

   Some clients remove or adapt these requirements by doing a risk management assessment instead of having a blanket requirement for insurance.

   There is a general consensus that indexes created by freelancers are protected by copyright law as ‘compilations of information’. Claims of copyright in published but unpaid-for indexes have helped some indexers obtain payment, although for others this has not worked because of complex corporate takeovers or the use of packagers as an intermediate step in the production chain. (Packagers are independent companies that produce a book for a publisher).

   The existence of moral rights in indexes is clear cut, at least in Australia ( and Great Britain (www.indexers. These countries have legislation that protects a creator’s right of integrity (the right not to have one’s work altered in a way that is prejudicial to their reputation), the right of attribution, and the right not to have authorship falsely attributed. The law in Australia could be used to support a claim against a publisher for distorting an index, or perhaps where a substantial part of an indexer’s work is used in a later index without attribution or payment.

   Publishers do have a defence for infringement, that of ‘reasonableness’. This would depend on the nature of the work, the context in which it is used, and any relevant industry practice. This suggests that only inappropriate editing of an index would breach moral rights.

Working from home

To work from home you need to be self-disciplined and enjoy your own company. Some people cannot imagine this, but others love the freedom and the ability to get stuck into work without distractions.

   And then there are those who work with children at home . . . Although freelance indexing can appear an ideal opportunity to work from home while being with young children, it can be very difficult to produce quality work with constant demands for attention. Whether it works for you depends on you, your children and your support networks. You can compromise by hiring a babysitter to care for children in your house while you are there, and using paid childcare when you are not.

   For occupational health and safety issues, see Health and safety in Chapter 10.

Mailing lists for indexers

There are many international mailing lists about indexing and related topics – if you join only one of the ones listed here, it should be Index-L:

   aliaINDEXERS (Australia):

   cindexusers –

   Faceted Classification Discussion (FCD): facetedclassification

   Index Peer Reviewers:

   Index Students:



   SIGCR-L for classification research:

   SIGIA-L for information architecture:

   TaxoCoP for taxonomies:

   SKY Index:

   Web Indexing SIG (ASI):

   The announcement lists below send one or two messages per month to announce meetings:

   IA-Peers: send an e-mail to to get on the Sydney IA-Peers mailing list for IA get-togethers ( CocktailHours/Sydney). IA-Peers get-togethers are held in twenty-six cities, including Amsterdam, Boston, Canberra, Charlotte, NC, London, Sydney, and Tokyo

   NSW KM Forum monthly meetings:

   Other indexing-related mailing lists are listed at discgrps.shtml.


One writer, for instance, excels at a plan or a title-page, another works away [at] the body of the book, and a third is a dab at an index.

   Oliver Goldsmith – ‘The Bee’ n. 1, 6 October, 1759

   The term writers here includes authors of books and articles, and technical writers who work on organisation-based projects including online help, manuals and intranets.

   Authors can make the indexing process easier or harder by the way they write and organise documents. Normally the qualities that make for a good book also make for a good index. It is relatively easy to index a book in which the author has:

   structured the content logically

   provided meaningful chapter titles and section headings

   avoided unnecessary repetition of the same material

   defined terms, along with their synonyms, and used them consistently.

   Authors sometimes comment, on seeing an index to their book, that it is interesting how the index brings together concepts that they had not explicitly considered, and shows an unfamiliar view of their work.

   Multi-author works often raise the problem of synonyms: where one author uses the term developing countries, another Third World, and other newly indus- trialised economies, it may be difficult to know to what extent these terms are meant to be synonymous, and can thus be grouped together in the index.

   The same applies to the indexing of collections, where work by multiple authors, written over a long period, is the norm. As consistency cannot be expected in the materials being indexed, it is usually imposed by use of a controlled vocabulary (see Chapter 6). Because of this, the specific words an author uses are less likely to be included in indexing terms than are the words used by a book author. Collections such as intranets can also be plagued by legacy data – old information transferred to the new medium – that has been structured and written for a different environment.

   Payment for book indexes often comes out of authors’ royalties. It is hard to see why this should be so; after all, the author does not pay the book designer or the cover artist, and a good index is just as much a marketing tool as a good cover. An author may:

   create the index themselves

   hire an indexer directly

   pay an indexer who is commissioned by the publisher

   create an index and hire a professional indexer for an overview and advice.

   Authors can help indexers by providing assistance on synonyms and difficult terms. It is usually not helpful for the author to highlight the text or provide a list of keywords that should be indexed as these divide the indexer’s attention between the indexing task and checking the lists.

Writers as indexers

My desire is . . . that mine adversary had written [an index].

   Adapted from Job ⅹⅹⅺ, 35.

   Some authors choose to index their own books. Some do it very well, and several author-indexed books have won indexing prizes. Often, however, the author is too close to the text to be objective. Words and phrases that resonate with meaning for the author may convey little to the casual browser. There are author-created indexes in which section headings such as ‘Seven routes to an alcohol-free life’ are indexed under ‘seven’ but not ‘alcohol’.

   Many scholarly authors try to simplify the indexing process by using the ‘concordance’ feature of word processing software. This entails creating a list of words that should be indexed and asking the software to generate a list of page numbers on which those words occur. The ‘indexes’ that result are inadequate because they have many undifferentiated locators for many headings: there may be more than twenty page numbers after a word, not separated by any subheadings. In addition, they fail to pick up concepts that are not described using the words the author has listed; they fail to pick up complex concepts; and they do not show aspects of subjects using subdivisions. These indexes can be improved somewhat by looking up pages for the terms with the most entries and manually creating subdivisions to divide those sections, if not all of the index.

   Authors who are creating their own indexes need assistance. Courses and textbooks can be helpful, and they should also have:

   a clear guide to house style requirements

   enough time (say, two weeks for 200 pages)

   careful editing of their indexes.

   Technical writers often index the books they write, and develop skills in indexing technical material using embedded indexing, with last-minute changes to products and text as they work. See also Handbooks and manuals and Online help in Chapter 9.

   Authors of journal articles may allocate keywords to their articles. These can be useful as a source of ideas for indexers, but are not usually adequate on their own. The reasons include lack of consistency with other indexing, and an inappropriate level of specificity. Article authors have been encouraged to index more appropriately using online templates with sections for research methodology and the geographical and historical period of inquiry, with the view to making the indexing shareable through use of Dublin Core and the OAI-PMH (Willinsky and Wolfson 2001). See Standards in Chapter 2.

   Writers of intranet content are sometimes expected to provide their own indexing when distributed authoring systems are in place. Some problems with consistency and level of detail can be avoided by using a limited set of terms selected from a pick list, and having an editor check all the author-supplied indexing. The advantages of this approach are that there is no delay between the creation of content and its indexing (if the authors actually do get around to indexing), and the indexing is usually compatible with organisational language use.

   Indexing is also a possible freelance occupation for authors.


It is neither wealth nor splendour, but tranquillity and occupation which give you happiness.

   Thomas Jefferson

   Book editors, as representatives of publishers, are pivotal to the indexing process. They usually decide whether or not an index is required. Nearly every non-fiction book is enhanced by an index, although some publications miss out. Evan Whitton (1997) comments on the Wood Royal Commission: ‘An index would facilitate study of the data, but out of $64 million allocated he sadly failed to find a few thousand for an index.’

   Editors also determine the characteristics of the index:

   the type of index(es) required, whether of subjects, cited authors, species, place names

   the parts of the book to be indexed: text only, or also appendixes, figures, tables

   the features to be identified separately, such as boxed text

   the types of content to be indexed (e.g., names and places)

   the amount of space available for the index, and the format (e.g., eight pages, two columns)

   the style: usually house style, but there may be specific decisions for special types of content.

   In some cases the indexer may decide some of these matters, such as the type of content to be indexed, or an editor may have specific requests for a book for a special audience, such as children. Other decisions that editors make concerning the index include:

   who will index the book, if not the author(s)

   the budget (in conjunction with the author(s), if they are paying)

   the schedule for sending page proofs to the indexer, perhaps in batches, and returning the index to the editor

   the output format required; usually RTF is acceptable, but some require special coding or embedded entries.

   Editors must then communicate the requirements to the author or professional indexer who will do the job, and check that the index that is delivered suits the needs of the book.

   Editors of collection indexes are not a clearly defined group. A bibliographic database has a person with a supervisory and quality control role, as do large library cataloguing departments. Because union catalogues such as Libraries Australia can be edited by contributors, the whole library community plays a role in quality control. Intranets may have a writer or editor with overall responsibility for quality, as may online help projects.

Indexing briefs

A book indexer needs to know most or all of the information listed in the brief and style sheet below. The notes in square brackets would not be included in the brief.




   Readership: [general, school, academic, etc.]

   Number of pages, words and illustrations:

   Budget: [Include Goods and Services Tax and any other extras.]

   Space available for index/Comprehensiveness: [The editor may calculate the number of entry lines needed, or the indexer may work from a sample index page printout to calculate lines per page, width of entries and so on. Alternatively, a guideline such as ‘medium level, x entries per page’ can be given.]

   Date page proofs are to be received by indexer: [The indexer needs to know if this changes, as they will have scheduled time for the job.]

   Date completed index due to editor: [Indexing a book often takes about the same time as copyediting it. Try to allow at least a week for every 200 pages – if you are pressed for time an indexer may be able to do the job more quickly, especially if the requirements can be negotiated]

   Format for index: [Normally the index is e-mailed as a Microsoft Word or PDF document, but more complex formatting such as tagging is sometimes required]

   Special conventions or requirements: [For example, create an index to cited authors; do not index glossaries or appendixes]

   Indexer queries/Author liaison: [Let the indexer know you are available to respond to queries and to forward these to the author as needed.].

   A collection indexer generally needs to know the following, although the items will vary depending on the needs and structure of the project:

   the scope, aims and typical users of the collection

   payment method (e.g., per piece or per hour)

   number of terms per item

   how they will access the items to be indexed

   parts of documents to be indexed (e.g., exclude editorials and advertisements)

   things to be indexed (e.g., authors, subjects, and an overall classification code)

   method of data entry or output of indexing terms.

   Editing of indexes is discussed in Evaluation in Chapter 8.

Style sheets

Stylistic issues are often dealt with by providing the house style guide, or an instruction to follow a standard guide such as AS/NZS 999, Style manual (for Australian government work) or The Chicago manual of style. Most indexers have a preferred style, which they use unless otherwise instructed.

   It is not useful for the editor to say ‘Follow the style of the sample index provided’ as this requires the indexer to trawl through the index to find the stylistic decisions that have been followed. This approach is especially frustrating when the sample index provided is of poor quality. It is much simpler if the editor makes the requirements explicit. Style sheets should cover the following:

   initial letters: upper or lower case?

   page numbers: how to separate from the index heading (comma or spaces before first page number)

   page ranges: whether to set these out in full (10–12, 257–259) or abbreviate (10–2, 257–9; or 10–12, 257–59)

   illustrations: whether to index them and if so how

   tables: whether to index them and if so how

   filing order: word-by-word; letter-by-letter

   filing order: file as if or as is? (e.g., Mc as Mac, St as Saint, 2 as two)

   filing order: initial articles

   format of subheadings: indented, run-in, hybrid

   see and see also references: format and position

   alphabetical groups: should a letter of the alphabet appear at the head of each section, and should the sections be broken up by blank lines or paragraph spacing?

   It would be save time and energy if these rules could be applied consistently by all publishers, but everyone has their own preferences. Some decisions can be made logically based on research into index use, and these should be applied where possible (see Index users, below). In other cases we advocate use of AS/NZS 999 (Australian and New Zealand Standard, see Chapter 2) unless there is a good reason to follow another style.

   Collection indexers need to know

   whether there is a controlled vocabulary for selection of subject terms, and rules for its use

   rules for combination of terms

   whether there is an authority file for names.

   See also Evaluation: Book-style indexing in Chapter 8.

Finding indexers

Indexers may be hired by an author directly, by an editor on behalf of the author, or by the editor on behalf of the publisher.

   Professional indexers can be found through ‘Indexers Available’ listings on indexing society websites. In addition, specific groups of indexers such as the ASI Special Interest Groups also list indexers who are available for work.

   ANZSI’s list of Indexers Available can be accessed at indexersavailable/index.htm. The ‘R’ symbol next to a name indicates that an indexer is registered. This is done through an evaluation of their work by a committee appointed by ANZSI. Indexers Available can be searched by name, State, materials and formats, subject specialities, and additional services offered. The ASAIB directory of indexers ( has a list of interdisciplinary indexers to indicate those who index materials from a range of disciplines. This acknowledges the fact that most indexers consider themselves to be generalists, able to index a wide range of materials.

   For information on fees, see Indexers, above.

Index users

The ultimate purpose of indexes is, of course, to provide a tool of value to the users of the index. Unfortunately, indexers rarely know the audience, or get any feedback from them. Indexers depend on editors and authors to tell them as much as possible about the expected readership, but also have to make commonsense decisions based on assumptions about the text. Most books have a wide range of users, so it is difficult to target specific approaches. Keep in mind the need to serve two types of users:

   Some are new to the book and may use a wide variety of terms to access a topic (no matter what it is called in the book).

   Some have already read the book and are familiar with the authors’ terminology and argument. They might therefore consult the name of a case study subject, or an idiosyncratic term used by the author that would not be considered by someone who has not already read the book.

   There is a subset of the first type of user – one who is not familiar with the book, but is browsing the index for interest rather than to fill a specific information need. Sometimes the unexpected index entries might appeal to them. In an index to a book on workers’ compensation in the medical profession one of the authors noticed an index entry for drowning. It was the one entry she looked up, puzzled as to how a health professional could drown on the job. It turned out that the doctor was snorkelling during a medical conference!

   In addition to showing a reader what is in a book, indexes also show that something is not covered, so the user can quickly try another source.

   Keep the potential users of your index in mind as you analyse the content and select terms to use. Often the choice of term is clear cut, as it depends on the wording of the book. In many cases the audience cannot be clearly identified, and a variety of words and phrases will be potential terms. You would use adipose tissue for a technical book and fat tissue for laypeople, but a book with a varied audience may well need both. In some situations closer identification of user needs is possible. This includes multiple editions of textbooks, in which teachers using the books provide feedback to the publishers. Another is indexing for a narrow user group. When working on access to an intranet for an organisation you can study search logs and do studies on a sample of users to get a good idea of the needs and approaches users will take with the index.

   There are also atypical index users, who might be quite important. For one periodical we indexed, the editors were major users; for many books the authors will also be regular users.

   Although specific issues to do with users are discussed in this section, users are also the focus of most of the book.

Research into the use of indexes

I find you want me to furnish you with argument and intellects too.

   Oliver Goldsmith – The Vicar of Wakefield Ch. 7 (1766)

   To indexers, a well-formed index is a thing of beauty – a compact, efficient, elegant package of useful information. To users, indexes are often difficult to read and confusing to use. For this reason we need research to find out how users respond to indexes in practice. Research has shown that users often:

   do not understand indexes

   do not know the alphabet

   do not like cross-references

   want more alternative terms (yet do not like cross-references!)

   search more broadly than indexers index

   want a table-of-contents-style entry to lead them through the index

   perform better when subheadings do not start with ‘little’ words such as in and of

   perform better with indented (paragraph) subheadings than run-on subheadings

   do not read introductory notes

   need help to distinguish between main headings and subheadings

   appreciate alternative mechanisms to access information.

   These findings come from research projects by Christine Ryan and Sandra Henselmeier (2000), Susan Olason (2000), Cecilia Wittmann (1990) and Corinne Jörgensen and Elizabeth Liddy (1996). Where research evidence exists in favour of certain approaches, it is discussed in the relevant sections below.

   Informal approaches to research, such as asking people where they would look for topics in an alphabetical sequence, can also be useful. When a peer reviewer queried our indexing (in a book on management) of Captain Kirk and Albus Dumbledore in the inverted form, we asked friends and indexing students where they would look for these terms. Many people said they would file Captain Kirk under C, as his name flows as a whole, while they would file Albus Dumbledore under D, as he is often referred to by his surname. These responses do not always follow the ‘rules’, which would invert both names, so they suggest the need for double entry in many cases. Similarly, Pauline Sholtys’ comments on the (see Filing rulesin Chapter 7) show that basic assumptions about use rs may not be valid.

   Talking to users can also bring unexpected results. When, as a new librarian, one of us surveyed users about their priorities in the development of the collections and services of the medical library, they wanted to have the walls painted and to get some armchairs. Presumably the collection had what they needed already. When we tested a corporate online help system with staff, their main requests were for larger type, and for a different font for main headings and subdivisions. Another surprise was their use of a linked glossary as a pseudo-index to lead them to useful content.

   To make indexes easier to use, indexers can:

   involve users in index planning and evaluation

   add more internal guidance

   use font variation to guide users

   obsess less over minor issues and think more about the overall experience

   offer training in index use and search techniques

   integrate thesauruses to lead users to appropriate terms

   consider alternatives such as ‘best bets’ links to the most popular pages

   remember the 80:20 rule – 20% of the content gets 80% of the use.

Usability guidelines

Jakob Nielsen (1994) notes ten points for evaluation against recognised usability principles (heuristics):

   Visibility of system status: If you have an index, make sure it is easily found; if you have more than one index, make sure they are both easily found and the distinctions between them recognised.

   Match between system and the real world: Use the language of users, and respond to the perceived needs of users. The use of paragraph numbers as locators reflects the structure of a book more than page numbers do.

   User control and freedom: Offer a choice of index and other access tools (such as tables of contents, site maps and shelf order); let users move through the index following references.

   Consistency and standards: Index according to a nationally agreed standard; index all similar pages to a similar level of detail.

   Error prevention: Users sometimes get confused about the difference between see and see also references, so rewording one of these (for instance replacing see with search using) might help. Provide guidance within the index about rules that may be confusing, such as filing rules.

   Recognition rather than recall: Because indexes are browsable they allow users to recognise and select an entry, rather than choosing (‘recalling’) a term to search.

   Flexibility and efficiency of use: Large online indexes load more quickly if split into letter groups; smaller indexes are more efficient when kept in one file as this makes them readily browsable.

   Aesthetic and minimalist design: Use minimal capitalisation, so that when capitals must be used they stand out; avoid images and font variations that serve no purpose.

   Help users recognise, diagnose and recover from errors: Cross-references guide users from one location to another, possibly more useful, one; allow users to backtrack as needed.

   Provide help and documentation: Include an introduction explaining general index features and those specific to the individual index.

   Lori Lathrop (1999) provides a useful checklist for evaluating indexes. For general research-based web design and usability guidelines including content, search and navigation see

User-oriented, mission-oriented and document-oriented indexing

There are two main approaches to indexing – user-oriented and document-oriented. User-oriented indexing (also called request-oriented indexing) assumes that you can anticipate the potential needs and approaches of indexers, and target your choice of terms towards the topics they may seek and the search terms they may use. It is most likely to work within an organisation where needs are well-defined and there is a shared language; for instance some terms may have a special meaning within that organisation.

   A subset of user-oriented indexing is mission-oriented indexing, in which you identify information within a document that pertains to a defined need. Your task may be to index all content in a range of documents that is about alternative therapies for endocrine diseases. Thus you ignore all other content, focused on the defined needs of the project.

   Document-oriented indexing (also called entity-oriented indexing) assumes that the only thing you can know with certainty is the content of the document. Therefore you serve users best by indexing that content precisely, so that when they search the index they will find any content the document has that is relevant to their need. In the book Inside indexing (Smith and Kells 2005), Kari Kells describes her choice of terms according to her assumptions about potential users of the book (request-oriented indexing), while Sherry Smith based her decisions on the content of the book itself (document-oriented indexing). This provides an interesting comparison of the choices that can be made.

   Indexing with a controlled vocabulary limits the extent to which you can create terms based on perceived user needs. Taxonomies and thesauruses can be user-centred (e.g., generated from terms in search logs) or document-centred (e.g., derived from documents as they are indexed). Some systems provide different views for different users, but these can be very frustrating when users need content that the system has not selected as being appropriate to their profile.

   Raya Fidel (1994) has discussed user-centred indexing, including the use of automated indexing to tailor indexing to individual user needs. Hanne Albrechtsen (1993) has compared simplistic (keyword), content-oriented and requirements-oriented indexing, including domain analysis.

‘Fiddling’ or guidance for your users

Everything should be made as simple as possible but not one bit simpler.

   attributed to Albert Einstein

   Filing rules have typically advised indexers to put certain entries out of order, on the grounds that users do not always know the spelling of the words they are looking for. So the user who searched for ‘McIntosh’ in the correct alphabetical place would not find it, as it would have been filed at ‘Macintosh’. The advent of computerised filing led to the revision of filing rules and the decision to file entries as they are written, rather than ‘as if’ they were spelt differently. We consider that the best approach is not to file entries out of alphabetical order, but to use guidance within the index (introductory notes or cross-references) to lead users to the correct alphabetical place.

   As the old indexers’ proverb says: ‘Fiddle the filing rules and you have helped a user for today, but provide guidance in index use, and you have helped them for a lifetime’. See also Notes in indexes and Filing rules: Filing Mt, St and Mc in Chapter 7.

   Synonym lists are used in intranet search engines to automatically expand searches to include alternative terms to help users find content they might have missed if they had not searched as widely. However, searches that retrieve hits that do not include the users’ search terms may cause confusion. This type of assistance is often best provided by giving the user a choice: ‘You searched for “ABC”. Would you like to expand your search to include the terms “Australian Broadcasting Corporation” and “public broadcasting”?’

Views of users . . . as wild animals, berrypickers, stupid, and active

Ideas about how people might use indexes come from studies specific to indexing, and also from studies about how people approach tasks or categorise information. A sampling is discussed below.

   Berrypicking, described by Marcia Bates (1989), is a model of information finding which goes beyond the traditional view of computer searching of databases to incorporate a range of information-seeking behaviours that operate in sequence, with the information need being redefined as the search progresses. She makes suggestions for the design of online search interfaces to enable a range of browsing activities including chasing footnotes, searching for citations, scanning a journal run, and searching for authors, as well as focused subject searching.

   The paradox of the active user (Carroll and Rosson 1987) suggests that people have a ‘production bias’: they prefer to jump into activity with a system, rather than preparing carefully so that they get the most out of it. Thus people often do not read the manual (or they ask Index-L rather than reading a textbook), and they prefer to click through links rather than take time to explore an index. In a usability study searching for information in PDF documents, users preferred using full-text search, even when they got more accurate results using the electronic back-of-the-book index (Barnum 2004). The production bias is also apparent in approaches to indexing such as the ‘ride a wild pony’ approach, below.

   People also have ‘assimilation bias’, in which they apply what they already know to interpret new situations. This is helpful when there are relevant parallels in the situations, but it can slow learning when there are significant differences. To aid users we should follow traditional patterns where possible, and make our new approaches explicit when we do not.

   Information foraging (Pirolli and Card 1999) uses the analogy of wild animals gathering food to analyse how humans collect information online. Users estimate the likely success of a given hunt from the information scent, which provides clues to identify the prey (content) and show its value. The easier it is to find other sites with good information, the less time users will spend visiting any individual website. Websites should provide sample content on the homepage (to appear nutritious) and include links and category descriptions that explicitly describe what users will find at the destination.

   The myth of the stupid user (Gaffney 2003) says that when usability problems are identified, creators should look for problems in the product, rather than blaming ‘stupid users’. For example, even librarians misunderstand complicated Library of Congress Subject Headings, suggesting that the system needs simplifying.

   See also ‘Fiddling’ or guidance for your users, above.

Children as index users

Keep me away from the wisdom that does not cry, the philosophy that does not laugh, and the greatness that does not bow before children.

   Kahlil Gibran (1883–1931)

   Paula Matthews and KGB Bakewell (1997) researched indexes to children’s information books. According to their findings:

   Children were aware of indexes and their role, but tended not to use subheadings and found cross-references difficult to understand. The use of double entries can avoid cross-references, but the unused term should be included in parentheses to make the connection clear, e.g., farming (agriculture).

   Children had difficulty scanning pages to find the information the index had directed them to – the use of bold type to highlight key points on pages in the text might be useful here.

   Children were confused about page ranges. On encountering the locator 7–10, they asked ‘What does 7 minus 10 make?’ This can be solved by the use of words in the ranges – 7 to 10.

   Children may not know the alphabet, so it can be useful to print the entire alphabet on the same pages as the index, including letters in both upper and lower case as section headers.

   One of the challenges in indexing for children is selectiveness. You may be able to use only one or two indexing entries per picture, so for a picture of crimson rosellas you have to decide whether to use birds, native birds, parrots, rosellas, or crimson rosellas. If there are other significant features in the picture you have to decide which of those are most important.

   Children’s textbooks are written with the curriculum in mind, and the index should conform to the language and directions of the curriculum guidelines. If there are questions for students at the end of each chapter, make sure that the words that children will search to find the answers to these can be found in the index. It is also worth remembering that the audience for early childhood books may be parents and teachers as well as children.

   A number of websites organise content especially for children. These focus on topics of interest (such as space exploration) and select material at the level of children’s understanding. KidsClick!: web search for kids by librarians (!/search.html) provides an advanced search capability that allows you to limit the search to certain fields, or by reading level or by inclusion of pictures. It also tells children how to truncate and use Boolean searching. (Boolean searching uses the operator AND to search for a document containing all of the search terms and the operator OR to search for any one or other of the listed terms.) KidsClick has a directory structure, and lets kids see the directory labelled with Dewey numbers (‘What does this page look like through librarians’ eyes’,!/dewey.html). This allows them to explore formal classifications while having an alternative to return to.

   Hutchinson et al. (no date) discuss children’s information processing ability and its implications for the design of information resources. They cover motivation, information processing skills, motor skills, searching and browsing, and book selection criteria. These ideas have been implemented in the International Children’s Digital Library (

The way people categorise things

The way people categorise and classify things has implications for indexing as it affects the terms people will search on and the places they will look for information.

   Marcia Bates (1998) discusses linguistic and anthropological research on classification and approaches to information access. ‘Folk classifications’ – categories used for plants, animals, colours and so on – have been found to have consistent characteristics across different cultures. These taxonomies include from 250 to 800 terms; they focus on the generic level (‘monkey’, rather than ‘howler monkey’ or ‘primate’); and they usually have a shallow hierarchy. Geraldine Triffitt (1999) has discussed folk taxonomies used in Aboriginal and Fijian cultures.

   Other research has confirmed the importance of generic, or basic level, terms. Although it is not always easy to identify basic terms, Bates suggests that we would probably find people using these terms, rather than the broadest or narrowest terms, while searching. In a book on knowledge management, librarians might be a better term to use in the index than corporate librarians; in an immunisation handbook Queensland is more likely to be sought than North Queensland. To some extent this goes against the principle of specific entry, which says that every subject should be indexed using the most specific term available. In practice we often bend this rule by taking it to mean the most specific sensible term available.

   Folk classification research also has implications for the number of categories and level of hierarchy that might be optimal for online information systems. Systems might aid users by providing a hierarchy from which they can select terms to start their search, or in which they can review search results. Display of a thesaurus allows users to move easily to the appropriate level of the hierarchy. This agrees with research by Susan Olason (2000) which found that users of book indexes liked to have a table-of-contents-style index entry at the main topic of the book, to give them ideas of the major topics included in the index and book. This has implications for the indexing of the metatopic (Chapter 4).

   Steven Pinker (1999) has also written about the ways people categorise things, explaining that there are two approaches – classical (Aristotelian) and family resemblance. Classical categories include concepts such as odd numbers, which are clear cut and can have membership rules written for them. Family resemblance categories involve a range of topics from games to vegetables to reptiles, for which it can be very difficult to write clear definitions. Lizards have legs and snakes do not, but what about legless lizards? This issue applies equally to manual and automated categorisation, and in both cases the categories need to be tested by users. It also means that there might have to be different approaches to the automated categorisation of different types of content.

   See also Taxonomies: Automated categorisation and taxonomy generation in Chapter 2 and Websites: Collaborative tagging and folksonomies in Chapter 9.

© Cambridge University Press
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Table of Contents

1. Indexing work environment; 2. Definitions and standards; 3. Planning indexes; 4. Concept analysis; 5. Term selection - topics and names; 6. Term selection - issues; 7. Term selection - different formats; 8. Term selection - controlled vocabularies; 9. Structure of indexes; 10. Quality control and interoperability; 11. Specialised source material - formats, subjects and genres; 12. Software and hardware; 13. Threats and opportunities in indexing; 14. References.

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