Next time you’re looking for something in a book (as opposed to a website) give a thought for people like me, who create indexes. We’re the original search engines.
How indexes are created
Many people think indexes are just produced automatically by software – or pixies. Well, that’s not true. Computers can produce indexes, but they’re very crude. That’s because computers think like machines, and machines have no imagination. In order to create indexes that work, you have to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. OK, not shoes, mind. And computers can’t do that. They can’t imagine what a person who may want to read a particular page will be thinking. Yes, I know search engines do that – sort of – but with nowhere near the nuance and skill of a professional indexer. You have to do some pretty agile word and concept juggling. It’s part art, part science, mostly intuition, and some sheer fantasy. If you want to know more about indexing, check out the Association of Southern African Indexers and Bibliographers.
I’m good at it because I always have the reader in mind when I write anything, so I tend to approach projects from a slightly different angle. That’s the story I’m sticking to because I am reluctant to admit that it’s really just because my mind works backwards.