November 26, 2007 Program Summary

“Editing and Indexing
for High-Impact Publications”

Newsletter and coffeeOur November 26th event featured a fun and informative panel of experts who have honed their skills over many years of providing editing and indexing services to clients ranging from individual writers to well-known publishing companies.

Panelists Vicki and Nels Hanson (of Hanson Writing & Editing), Sonsie Carbonara Conroy (of Catalyst Communication Arts), and Jim Johnson, (technical writer and editor) explained how they developed their expertise, what these processes entail, and what to aim for when performing these polishing passes on your own or seeking help from outside professionals.

Why do these processes matter? Highly polished and well-organized information is not only more readable and engaging, it is more likely to generate sales, attract more favorable “buzz,” and/or produce far better “action through understanding.”

Have you ever experienced the distraction of reading books or articles on interesting subjects that were riddled with grammatical errors or typos? Have you waded through long treatises that had no logical flow and were just screaming for an editing pass? How about information-packed documents that left you hunting for key points because they were so poorly indexed (or not at all)?

You may have noticed that many book buyers skim the index as well as the table of contents to make a buying decision. Both tools are indispensable to readers of user manuals and other business publications to help them quickly pinpoint what they need in order to perform efficiently under tight deadlines. You don't have to be a big-name author or company to need help with indexing and editing. And anyone who produces technical or business documentation can benefit from learning more effective and efficient ways of accomplishing these important tasks.

This event provided plenty of tips on the use of editing and indexing techniques to produce the most usable, reader-friendly material possible.

We covered the following highlights in the discussion:

  1. What do the processes of editing and indexing involve?
  2. What kinds of materials need professional editing and indexing, and why?
  3. For people interested in doing it themselves, what skills and education do they need?
  4. Are there any tools and techniques that speed up these painstaking polishing processes?
  5. What should you look for when seeking outside assistance with editing and indexing?

Read the articles and highlights, below!

Preparing for Publication: From Draft to Printed Page
by Vicki Hanson

Self-expression must pass into communication for its fulfillment.
— Pearl S. Buck

Lee FerreroYesterday’s stereotype of the struggling writer — alone at a typewriter, crumpling pages in despair, ripping up rejection slips — has been updated: Computers have streamlined the act of writing, workshops encourage writers to share their efforts, and publishing manuals crowd bookstore shelves. Indeed, if you’ve been penning a family history, drafting a travel article, or assembling a cookbook, you may already be dreaming about publication as you hit the final period on your keyboard.

The simple fact, however, is that you’re only halfway home: “Final” drafts require editing—that rigorous but vital labor that orders and clarifies, bridging the writer’s desire for expression and the reader’s need to understand. There’s no avoiding this last step, whether you’re a promising novice or a veteran author.

If you’re not a practiced writer — even if you’re an expert in your field — you should always seek editing on two levels: substantive (structure and clarity) and stylistic (form, grammar, and punctuation). Even the most compelling topics require clear development in concise, effective language.

If you’re a seasoned writer, you’ll revise your own work through several drafts before asking other professionals to provide feedback regarding content (scientists and other academics follow this practice, known as “peer review,” before submitting papers to journals). If you’re diligent, you’ll also submit your writing to an experienced copyeditor: In my 30-plus years of editing I’ve never met a manuscript that was error-free. (F. Scott Fitzgerald, a master re-writer and critic of his own work, was a notoriously bad speller.)

Writers who plan to submit a book to an agent or publisher know that they face tremendous competition and that the minimum requirement for being taken seriously is a manuscript formatted to industry standards. Even if you decide to work directly with a local printer and self-publish, you will need to provide a “camera-ready” layout as a PDF (“portable document format”).

Throughout our writing and teaching careers, my husband, Nels, and I have edited each other’s work (including this article) and that of university students, professors, and administrators; research scientists; lawyers and judges; and organizational and corporate executives. We also help private clients prepare book manuscripts for submission to agents and publishers or for self-publication. In all our projects — no matter the subject area or the writer’s level of expertise — our goal is always to ease the way for the reader in four primary areas:

(1) Organization: Emphasizing main ideas supported by concrete examples and using parallel structure and terms for parallel ideas

(2) Language: Clarifying expression and ensuring a consistent “voice” that the reader “hears” while reading, no matter how technical or informal the subject

(3) Style: Checking for consistent terminology and form and correcting grammar and punctuation. (Computer spelling and grammar checks don’t always catch typos or improve sentence structure.)

(4) Formatting: Using consistent titles, headings, margins, fonts. (If the editor is acting as liaison between the author and a designer or printer, this step also includes creating the PDF, proofreading layouts, and reviewing printers’ proofs.)

Clients will sometimes ask us for only one kind of editing — usually copyediting or layout proofing. The truth is that there’s no way to separate the four editing functions listed above. A good editor will be aware of all four while marking text, even if he or she makes separate editing passes to address them — beware of editors who are happy to “just copyedit.” Also, design and printing costs are increased when an editor is brought in at a later stage: Proofreading always means editing, and editing always alters the layout.

Organizations and individuals alike sometimes question the value of hiring editors. Businesses may be willing to pay top fees for graphic design but consider editing a luxury, not understanding that the authority of their brand or the impact of their Web page is diminished by poorly written copy. Individuals may have budget constraints or worry that the project they hold dear will be taken over by the editor. But in all cases one maxim holds true: A skilled editor is always a sensitive reader/writer who focuses and strengthens the author’s intent.

If you do contract with an editor, be sure you have a written agreement with all services spelled out (scope of work, delivery date, final format, etc.). Avoid editors who charge exorbitant fees or very low fees—either extreme should raise a red flag. Reputable editors charge fair prices for their work, frequently negotiating discounts for large jobs. In particular, be wary of editors who prey on aspiring authors. There are many “editing agencies,” especially online, that advertise ghostwriters and book doctors who vow to make a project marketable (an impossible pledge, given the vagaries of today’s publishing industry).

Writing anything — an interesting freelance article, a persuasive public relations piece, an evocative memoir — requires effort and patience. When you’ve done your very best and printed out your last clean page, find an editor whose skills you trust and with whom you can work comfortably. Your edited manuscript will be polished and professional and say exactly what you want it to say — in print.

Copyright 2007 Vicki Hanson

For questions or more information on editing services, contact Vicki Hanson at veh@impulse.com or call her at 546-9009.

Downloads from the event:

Vicki and Nels Hanson of Hanson Writing & Editing provide writing, editing, and proofreading services for private clients, businesses, academic departments, and government agencies. With master's degrees in English and extensive experience in publications production and university teaching, the Hansons specialize in revising, editing, and formatting books for print, as well as annual reports, symposium proceedings, magazines, Web sites, and marketing materials. Their own writing has won awards and appeared in textbooks, literary quarterlies, and newspapers.

Overview of Technical Editing (Key points covered)
by Jim Johnson

Scope of the Job

Description of components for technical editing

Book’s market position

  • Self-study book
  • Classroom text book
  • Reference book

Audience description

  • Beginner, intermediate, expert

Book text

  • Front matter
  • Introduction
  • Parts and chapters
  • Appendices
  • Glossary
  • Index

Figures, graphics, and tables

  • Color depth
  • Resolution
  • File format

Programming code

  • Simple mono-spaced font text-file; left-aligned, or indented
  • Color-coded, indented, using what editor?

CD-DVD deliverables

  • Readme files
  • Industry Standards
  • PowerPoint slides
  • e-Book publications
  • This title
  • Referenced titles (white papers, etc.)
  • Sample software tools
  • Example programming segments

Detailed schedule of events, checkpoints, and milestones

  • Options, and consequences, of missing (or beating) calendared events

Sequence of deliverables and reviews

  • Manuscript from author
  • Copy edit
  • Technical edit
  • Review, re-edit, and comment by author
  • Re-copy edit
  • Re-technical edit
  • Pagination, with graphics in place
  • Re-technical edit


  • Microsoft Word?
    In-line edits and comments, or separate document?
    Track-changes and Comments enabled?
  • Adobe Acrobat?
  • Frame Maker?
  • InDesign?


  • Pre-read
  • Review, add, change, delete, challenge, and comment
  • Validate all dates, formulas, references (publications, Internet links, etc) code snippets, graphics and figures,
    tables, performance claims, operational procedures, output examples, T/C and index references, factual
    assertions, etc.
  • Communicate


Agree on a set (and hierarchy) of style references

  • Access to pre-set templates and paragraph styles
  • Book’s style sheet
  • Series’ style sheet
  • Publisher’s style sheet
  • Microsoft’s Manual of Style for Technical Publications, 3rd edition, or later
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, or later
  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, or later

Relations with the Author/Project Manager/Copy Editor/Publisher

  • Who is the ultimate authority?
  • What criteria determine release of funds?
  • How is end of tech-edit effort defined?

General Rules

  • There is no such thing as a true synonym
  • The first rule of style is ‘be consistent.’
  • Use a clear font face
  • Use a font face that does not confuse ‘oh’ and ‘zero’, upper-case ‘eye’ and lower-case ‘ell’ (and maybe the digit ‘one’), ‘ess’ and ‘five’, or ‘zee’ and ‘two’,  regardless of case or superscript/subscript.

For more information or questions, contact Jim Johnson at editor-1@sbcglobal.net.

Jim Johnson is an independent contractor, specializing in technical editing and writing. Aside from editing technical manuals, Jim also teaches Windows, Office, Digital Photography, Photoshop, E-mail and the Internet, and Microsoft Project. He started editing as a private contractor, serving the Peter Norton Software group, Microsoft Press, and several Silicon Valley start-ups. Thus far, he has edited over 3 dozen books for Microsoft Press, and his current project is Windows Server 2008 TCP/IP Technical Reference. Jim is also a member of the SLO STC Board of Directors.

by Sonsie Carbonara Conroy

I’ve been involved with publishing (editing, writing, proofreading, etc.) for my entire career; during the last 20 years, I have specialized in indexing.

In this day and age, why bother with an index, especially in an electronic document, when you can use a keyword search?

What does an index add to a document?

Can’t you just use the indexing function of your word processing software instead of hiring a professional?

And above all, just what is an index, and how is it produced?

Let’s start with the last question, as it is probably the most important. An index is more than a concordance or list of terms. It is a detailed map or guide to the information contained in a document—written by a human being, to be used by other humans.

The ability to electronically search a document can be a godsend — it’s one of the great gifts of the computer era. Yet the search function is essentially “dumb”: exact and concrete and unable to deal with higher-level concepts like the human brain does with great ease.

If you’re looking for Zbigniew Brzezinski in a book on U.S. foreign policy, for example, a nearly instantaneous electronic search process may bring up 128 references. But which one concerns his part in brokering the Camp David Accords? His relationship with Jimmy Carter? His current position at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies? You’d have to physically follow each link to find this information.

An index guides you quickly to the pages where each topic is discussed, and the information is accessible several different ways. His part in the Camp David Accords, for example, would appear as a subheading under his name, and under “Camp David Accords,” and probably under several other related topics.

An indexer acts as a go-between, helping the reader find information using the author’s language. This skill is especially important when a novice reader is confronted with the instruction manual for new software, for example. The software uses a specialized language of its own — a language the reader may not understand. The helpful indexer directs readers from common names (“options,” “background”) to program-specific terms (“radio buttons,” “wallpaper”).

When working with most materials, an indexer does not need to be an expert in the field. This is especially true if the audience for the book is a general one. If an intelligent, experienced indexer cannot understand the text well enough to index it, that may point to problems with writing or editing. Highly technical documents intended for very specialized audiences, probably need an indexer who has specialized education and/or experience in the topic, but this is an unusual situation.


To give an idea of how an index is put together, let me outline my own process.

First, I deal with the clerical aspects. Are all the pages present, complete, and numbered properly? Are there any illegible portions? If I’ve received the document on disk or in email, I like to print it out and work with it on paper.

I read the table of contents and any introductory material to get an idea of the subject and scope of the document. Then, it’s time to dive in.

I use a highlighter to mark definitions, terms, proper nouns, and other indexable items. Then I read for “aboutness.” This is where the concept entries are developed. What is this section about? What is the best descriptive term for an index entry? Should a discussion of the 1978 meetings between Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter, and Anwar Sadat be indexed under “Middle East peace process,” or “Camp David Accords”?

Should it be entered under more than one term — i.e., should “Camp David Accords” be indexed as a separate entry and as a subentry under “Middle East conflict,”  “Carter, Jimmy,” “Sadat, Anwar,” and “Begin, Menachem”?

Creating concept entries is the heart of the indexing process, and requires the most time and judgment. As the index progresses, the wording of these entries may change, several may be combined into entry, or a single entry might be “opened up” into two or three separate ideas. The reader’s ease of use is uppermost in my mind, and I like to make generous use of “See” and “See also” entries.

The editing process involves checking spelling and grammar as well as polishing and refining individual entries. If there is limited space, I may also have to cut and combine entries to make the material fit in the allotted pages. Often, though, typographic tricks such as a smaller typeface, closer leading, or using two or more columns, can make an index fit without much — if any — cutting.

When does a document need an index? There are no standard guidelines requiring an index if a document is X pages long, though publishers may have in-house rules about length. If a document of ten pages is complex enough, it might need a short index. Generally, any nonfiction publication intended for general distribution in the form of a book of any length should have an index.

Beside being an immense help to readers, an index is virtually required for nonfiction books to be taken seriously by libraries and bookstores. In fact, many libraries will not purchase nonfiction without an index! Most scholarly and technical journals also index by volume or year.

I’m sure we’ve all stood in a book store and scanned the indexes of one book after another, looking for the one that has the best coverage of our topic of interest. A book with no index is almost guaranteed to be put aside during such a search. And a book with columns of undifferentiated page numbers may suffer a similar fate. This is where the quality of the index comes into play, and just another reason why a human must do this job in order to get it right.

Just about all word processing programs come with an indexing function. Why not just use this automated feature to generate an index? Because like the search function for an electronic document, the indexing feature is essentially “dumb.” It can only deal with the words in the document, not with the concepts. And probably the most important contribution of an indexer is organizing the index around the concepts presented in the document.

Any search or indexing program can find some indexable terms, such as proper names, common nouns that name ideas, and so on. What a computer cannot do is understand the higher-level concepts involved in, say, a book about dogs. The names of all the breeds mentioned in the book will be caught by the software, but there will also be hundreds of undifferentiated page numbers after the word, “dog” or “dogs.” All named training exercises will be indexed, but there probably won’t be a main heading called “training,” with a subhead for “exercises” and perhaps even sub-subheadings for each exercise.

Concept indexing is something only humans can do, and informative subheadings, which are the meat and potatoes of any good index, will be absent. A long list of undifferentiated page numbers following an important idea is next to useless. It takes the careful analysis of an indexer to make that idea accessible via useful subheadings.


Embedded indexes are created by placing tags, or pointers to information, in electronic documents. Word processing software, like Word, or page layout programs such as Frame, InDesign, or Quark are used for this process. Embedded indexing is useful for documents that change often, because the tags stay with the text and so page changes don’t make a difference.

The thought process involved in creating an embedded index is the same; the difference lies in the finished product and means of access. It’s somewhat more difficult and time-consuming to create an embedded index, and not always practical or necessary.

Back of the book indexes are the tools we are most familiar with. A standard index can be created using a shoe box and packets of index cards (the only method available until the advent of the computer), or you can use your word processing program to perform some of the clerical functions and speed up the process. Professional indexers use stand-alone indexing programs that are relatively costly and have a steep learning curve . . . not something most novices will need or want.

I hope I’ve convinced you that your masterwork needs an equally fine index. So, who is going to tackle this project? In most cases, hiring a professional is the way to go. As the author, you’ve given your all and are probably plumb out of creative juice to tackle any related project. Also, since you know virtually every word and paragraph, you’re not in a good position to pretend to be an uninitiated reader looking for concepts expressed in unfamiliar language.

In most cases, then, you’ll want to hire a professional. This person will need to see a sample of the text (several pages up to a full chapter, depending on the length of the work), and you’ll discuss price per page, index style, depth, and length, and other important details.

You can find a professional indexer several ways; two of the best are via Indexers Unlimited or the American Society of Indexers (see handout for Web site addresses).

If you decide you can do this yourself, there are several resources to help you. Dedicated, stand-alone indexing software has a fairly steep learning curve and is expensive; you don’t need to use it for fairly simple projects. However, the downloadable demos offered by most software manufacturers will allow you to create indexes (with some limitations) should you wish to give this method a try.

Instead, you can invest in a shoe box, a set of alphabetic dividers, and a stack of — guess what? — index cards, and create your index by hand, to be typed in final form later. This is the cheapest and perhaps the easiest method, and it’s how I got started years ago.

Or, if you want to be a little more up-to-date, you can use Word or WordPerfect to do some of the work for you, and eliminate having to type a complete index at the end of the process. A colleague has developed a simple method to do this, which I’ll be happy to share via email.

Copyright 2007 Sonsie Carbonara Conroy

For more information or questions, contact Sonsie at sconroy@slonet.org.

More resources on indexing:

  • Indexers Unlimited: www.indexersunlimited.org (a consortium of experienced, professional indexers, many of whom specialize in technical materials and embedded indexing)

Sonsie Carbonara Conroy of Catalyst Communication Arts is an expert indexer who has also authored a book and written articles on a variety of subjects. For more than 20 years, Catalyst Communication Arts has served trade and textbook publishers by performing professional indexing of general and technical subject matter. Sonsie creates indexes written from the user's point of view that illuminate, and provide easy access to, the author's ideas and the terms used to explain those ideas.




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