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Reviewing and Proofreading a Draft Index
By Seth A. Maislin
  If you are using this guide, it is because you have an index that requires review. This guide will give you ideas on how to review an existing index for errors and possible improvements. (Important Note: This guide does not involve checking for content errors. It addresses only the appearance of the index.)

  The following is a list of items that require attention when reviewing an index for accuracy. You may find it easier to check each of these items one at a time, or else you might prefer familiarizing yourself with all items and checking them all simultaneously.

  • Misspellings. Make a note of all misspelled words. Simultaneously check the references to the documentation for similar spellings (often the indexer copies the author's language) and verify that they are not purposeful misspellings.

  • Missing page numbers. If instead of a page number there appears a nonnumeric character or a blank space, then there is something wrong. Watch for page ranges that are not closed on both ends (for example, "10-" and "-15").

  • Impossible page numbers. Page ranges that run backwards, such as 135-129, or run across too many pages (anything over 50 is a good bet for a mistake), such as "35-288", should be flagged.

  • Implausible page ranges. Page ranges that run across too many pages should be flagged for further inspection. For purposes of proofreading (not style or content), my recommendation is to inspect any range more than 50 page numbers. (Stylistically, ranges of more than 10 page numbers usually require subentries or rewriting.)

  • Inaccurate page numbers. Check a sample of the page numbers in the index for accuracy by referring to the documentation. At a minimum, check at least one page number for each chapter or section of the documentation. To be even more careful, check 20% to 50% of the page numbers, including both ends of page ranges. If errors are found, increase the percentage inspected.

  • Inconsistent terminology. Is a term being called a "class" in one place and an "interface" in another? Make a note of these inconsistencies.

  • Poorly combined text entries. If there are two identical or closely identical index entries, they should probably be combined into one. For example, the entries "computers" and "computer" should be combined; the entries "computers, how to use" and "computers in classrooms" can be combined under "computers" if desired.

  • Page numbers are not combined properly. Page numbers that can be be better combined, as in "105-107, 109-120" or "105, 107, 109, 111," probably should.

  • Bad cross references. Every "see" and "see also" cross reference should point unambiguously and exactly to an existing entry. For example, for the phrase "see computers," make sure that there is an entry "computers," not "computer" or "computer hardware." Also, if there is no entry there at all, the cross reference should be marked as inaccurate.

  • Unnecessary cross references. If a cross reference is pointing to an entry with only one page number reference (or a single page number range), with no subentries, then the cross reference should be replaced with that/those page number(s). For example, instead of two entries "Hardware. See Computer hardware" and "Computer hardware, 103-105," use the entries "Hardware, 103-105" and "Computer hardware, 103-105."

  • Overall page designs. According to your specific style, the index pages may require headers, footers, page numbers, bleeding tabs, and so on. Verify that they exist and are aligned correctly.

 Overall index design. Check that the index content is laid out according to your style: number of columns, column width, margin widths, letter heads, line spacing, fonts and font styles, and so on.

  • Bad page or column breaks. Check that the columns and pages break in reasonable and understandable places. For more information, see Page-Breaking and Column-Breaking an Index.

  • Proper use of continued lines. Lists of subentries that are broken across columns and pages may require continued. (Recommended style is to allow placement of continued lines only on the first column of verso [left] pages.) Verify that continued lines are necessary, clear, and consistently used throughout.

  • Overall index entry design. Check that the index entries are laid out according to your style: italics and punctuation for cross references; separators between individual page numbers, within page ranges, within complex page numbers, between the entry text and the page numbers; indentation (see next item below); initial capitalization of entries and subentries (stylistically, neither is recommended); and so on.

  • Improper indentations. There are three indentations in the index. (a) Secondary-level entries are indented "one unit." (b) Tertiary-level entries are indented "two units." (c) All turn lines, regardless of level, are indented "three units." (The definition of a unit depends on the design.)

  • General weirdness. Anything that looks very strange, such as a mistyped entity that is showing up in the index, should be flagged so that someone can look it over.

Copyright 1999 Seth A. Maislin


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