Skip to main content
August 24, 2011

The perversion of indexes

In addition to mixed column and copyfitting, the shift from desktop publishing to structured authoring may result in the demise of the traditional index.

In the past ten years, the percentage of technical communication that crosses my desk without an index has definitely increased. Fewer people are indexing technical documentation because:

  • Indexing is hard.
  • Many technical writers do not enjoy creating an index.
  • The acceleration of content production schedules (and the elimination of actual printing) has removed a lot of slack time where indexing used to take place.

There are also a couple of additional factors at play:

  • Modular, reusable content requires much stricter adherence to style guidelines in the index and more index editing to ensure that the document compilations have coherent indexes.
  • Technical communication groups have fewer resources, and indexing is seen as a luxury.
  • There is a perception that full-text search is a reasonable equivalent* to a crafted index.
  • Creating index entries in XML editors is less pleasant than you might expect. (And I don’t expect much.)

This trend can go two ways:

  • Indexing rates continue to decline, and indexing eventually becomes a lost art, just like production editing.
  • Software vendors develop better tools, technologies, and architectures for index creation. For example, it would be nice to be able to highlight a word and have the authoring tool automagically create an index entry for that word.

I’m betting on the first option.

* It’s not.