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I presented two indexing-related telephone seminars for the Society for Technical Communication. Recordings of those seminars are now available, complete with handouts and other documents.


A Brief, Comprehensive Indexing Primer -- 2 CDs

Quality indexing, in both print and online media, comes down a few simple rules.

Give yourself ninety minutes to absorb a few core concepts, and youíll immediately recognize improvements in both your indexing and your writing. This seminar covers word choice, structure, print and online locators, cross references, sorting, tools, and usability.

  • Learn to avoid over-indexing. The temptation to ďindex everythingĒ is stronger and more dangerous than you might think.

  • Understand how and why subentries work. Develop both a critical eye for good structure and a methodology for indexing ideas more than once.

  • Write quality labels. Also, develop standards for reusing labels among frequently republished documents.

  • Treat locators with respect. Page numbers may be boring or automatic, but theyíre also the biggest determinant in index usability.

  • Find an indexing system that works for you. Make good choices, from good usability and effective software to deadlines and media constraints.

The seminar is divided into the following major sections:

  • Grasping for importance. Perhaps the most valuable information analysis tool is in understanding what qualifies as indexable. Knowing what not to index is a simple concept, but machines are completely incapable of making this judgment. Index too much, and readers lose faith in the documentation. Fail to index enough, and good information goes missing. Sometimes what is worth writing isnít also worth indexing, and thatís a difficult idea for many writers to absorb and apply.

  • Conceptual relationships. The interplay among main entries and subentries provides readers with valuable contextual information. Use the right number of subentries and you can provide informational scope that would otherwise be unavailable, especially in online documentation.

  • Page numbers and other locators. The most boring part of an index is still the most critical. For print indexes, understand the usability of page ranges and cross references. For online indexes there are extra challenges of choosing locator text, managing redundancy, and battling the limitations of your user interface. Even so, if you know how to choose locators, conceptual relationships are easy.

  • Labeling. The hardest part of indexing is in finding the words to say what you want to say. Itís even difficult to teach; only practice makes perfect. Take a look at labels that work, and how presentation can strongly influence your choices.

  • Everything else. Participants had the opportunity to send questions ahead of time. At completion of the prepared materials, Seth selected and answered several interesting questions. No topic was too esoteric: multiple indexes, index translation, usability concerns, keywording for search engines, etc. Voice question-and-answer periods are also included.

This two-CD set contains:
• Ninety (90) minutes of audio, playable on audio CD players and CD-capable computers.
• All accompanying handouts, including slides and exercises.
• Additional indexing resources.

Cost and purchasing information



Evaluating an Index (Even If You Have Only Five Minutes) -- 2 CDs

Learn how to measure the effectiveness and accuracy of an index by looking at it whole, in select parts, and in the context of the documentation itself.

Being a critic is easy. This seminar teaches the simple, subjective guidelines you need to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of indexes written by others, including index drafts. Learn to make and suggest improvements to any index, even if you scheduled only five minutes its review.

Evaluating and editing an index requires careful consideration of all its clues. For example:

  • Inclusion. Indexers can make opposite mistakes: they can overlook important concepts while also indexing indiscriminately. Learn how to find these errors quickly, and to estimate how much editing work might be required.

  • Depth. Subentries help readers distinguish similar concepts and connect related topics. When misused, however, they obscure the authors' message. Inappropriate structure is easily corrected, if you know what you're looking for.

  • Connectivity. Readers benefit from the connections between topics, such as subentries and cross references. The best conceptual associations can transcend the documentation and help an index to truly shine.

  • Format. Layouts and styles affect usability, of course, and consistency is important. But with indexes, blind obedience to a style sheet can get you into trouble. Know when to avoid certain formats, and how to make exceptions.

  • Language. Good authors choose their words carefully, but from an indexing perspective, the vocabularies of readers matter more. Try to think outside the authoring box, using cross references and modifiers to control the language.

To understand how to perform a quality evaluation, the following topics are discussed in detail:

  • Triviality. Readers lose faith in the documentation if the index consistently points them to something they donít want. Sometimes what is worth writing isnít also worth indexing, and thatís a difficult idea for many writers to absorb and apply. Itís not difficult to know when an index is over-complete, but it does involve putting yourself in the readerís shoes. Itís also important to know how indexes serve a very different purpose than the documentation itself. Look for signs of over-completeness and check a select few entries.

  • Completeness. If good content hasnít been indexed, then the index is flawed. However, itís much simpler to check an index entry against the documentation than it is to check documentation against the index. Learn how to quickly scan a document to find nuggets of indexable content, and then search the index for adequate conceptual representation.

  • Structure. The interplay among main entries and subentries provides readers with valuable contextual information. Using the right number of subentries provides informational scope. Especially in living and online documents, structure is difficult to maintain and must be constantly and consistently evaluated. Some warning signs are clear, like having too many page numbers for a single entry, but structure is more involved than this. Check for plausibility and ambiguity, for entries that are conceptually related but physically separated, and for effective use of cross references.

  • Access. So the index is complete, accurate, and well-structured, but is it usable? Without good labeling, frequent synonyms, and sufficient cross references, users may not be able to leverage the index as needed. Itís important for the indexer never to make a single choice and stick to it; indexers must exercise flexibility and redundancy, but not ambiguity. Learn to think creatively about language and conceptual relationships, and to recognize when topic relationships can be enhanced through simple manipulation and repetition.

  • Format. How an index looks is part indexing and part proofreading, but sometimes template precedent is a bad thing. Learn the reasons behind certain formatting standards, understand their limitations, and be prepared to try something different if content demands it. Develop a style sheet, and establish lines of communication. If youíre single-sourcing, itís likely that your formatting requirements for print are woefully inadequate online, and vice versa. Learn to see where the index falls apart, and how to correct it.

  • Signs of Genius. Never underestimate your audienceóor your content. Sometimes a spark of inspiration strikes, and you do can something unexpected, unprecedented, or even funny. Take a look at some insightful choices regarding organization, ordering, and language. An index is always more than the sum of its parts, but every now and again itís more obvious than usual.

This two-CD set contains:
• Ninety (90) minutes of audio, playable on audio CD players and CD-capable computers.
• All accompanying handouts, including slides and exercises.
• Additional indexing resources.

Available June 2003.
Cost and purchasing information



Costs and Purchasing Information

To purchase one or both seminars, write a check for the appropriate amount to Focus Information Services. Send your check, along with your name and address (legibly, please!) and which seminars you are purchasing, to

     Telephone Seminars
     Focus Information Services
     11 Quincy Street
     Arlington MA 02476-6031

Please direct all inquiries to seth@maislin.com.


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