Recently, I had been reading a book and was thinking about the need for an index. It was not an overly technical book but it was not fiction either, and I wanted to go back at a later time to look up certain items I had learned while reading it. As an exercise I began to make my own index. And as I did so I began to think about the types of keywords I was selecting, based solely on what I wanted to be able to find in the book. So I wouldn’t claim that this was a great index or one that everyone could use, but it suited me and it was interesting to see how this particular author wrote; by creating an index, you really see the text in a different way.
But the reason I bring this up is to not to talk about indexing as a discipline but to explore the categories of keywords used in indexes. Most indexes just have a list of entries – each entry has equal standing, whether a concrete detail or an abstract concept, and arranged strictly in alphabetical order. Admittedly, some books have special types of indexes – such as Index of Names or an Index of Authors. In books about the Bible, it is common to have a separate Index of Bible Verses. But by and large, most indexes have a mix of types of keywords and no distinction is made in the index.
I was thinking that with an online index, there would be no limitation that the paper copy has – that you could tag the keywords and with a click of a button sort them by category or display only keywords of a given category (or offer a check box to select which type of keywords to display). In at least the index I was creating, there were really only a handful of types of keywords and entries that I had determined were useful. Why couldn’t we have an Index of Concepts, and Index of Details, an Index of Nouns, an Index of Verbs, an Index of Places, even an Index of Quotes (if the work included pithy memorable quotes that were worth locating again)? But what would the standard set of categories be? Are there standard categories?
Has indexing been replaced by search engines? Do readers simply search for a word or phrase? One value of an index is that is offers alternative words, alternative ways to find a topic or detail. By tagging keywords, by categorizing them, I think an index would be even more effective. I plan on finding out more about whether categorizing or tagging of index keywords is a research topic. Index entries are a form of metadata and I’m sure there must be studies on categorizing metadata. If you know of any research in this direction, I’d like to hear from you. Post a comment here or email me at bill dot albing at keycontent dot org.
For the index I created, here are the types of keywords I chose:
- Fact or Statistic
- Definition or Term or Concept