Why have an Index in a book?

Many people use book indexes for different reasons. They include lecturers, teachers and students, librarians, book reviewers, browsers and purchasers of books.

The indexer, who is a professional, is tasked with understanding  the material in the book and creating an alphabetical list of the topics covered, in such a way that a reader (of whatever level) can be taken to a desired entry point and find the information sought as directly as possible without missing an entry term or terms.

In order to produce a good index, the indexer should know the subject and understand the level of audience for whom the book is intended. A particular type of subject categorisation is required, together with training and experience, as well as the ability to analyse the content, work at a considerable pace, correct and edit the final index and produce a useful tool for the reader/user.


What training do Indexers in South Africa require?

Most South African indexers have a degree in Information Science which provides a background to the classification of materials and goes on to introduce the indexing of journals and books. Many qualified practitioners have this kind of background and experience before they venture into freelancing as indexers.

In addition, ASAIB  offers training courses from a basic level, through the intermediate level to an advanced level, as well as thesaurus construction and indexing for e-books. Further to this, the indexing mentorship has been added in order to expose inexperienced indexers to practice and guidance.


Finding an Indexer

ASAIB 's list of freelance Indexers is available on this website under the heading  'FIND AN INDEXER'. Please make use of this database to search under subject, type of material and location of the indexers.

In today's wired world, location is no longer important as Indexers work electronically and submit their indexes via email and receive large book files with ease electronically. However, this factor has been included in order to assist  publishers who may wish to use this feature to select freelancers.

However, it is most important that publishers should select an indexer familiar with the subject material content of the book to be indexed.  This means that they are familiar with terms used in the subject field and immediately identify the terminology that should be used for that subject.  An example of incongruity would be to choose a legal indexer to index an economics textbook.

For this reason, ASAIB's directory of indexers allows a considerable number of subject categories to be specified, and increases these according to the requirements of its members.


Briefing the Indexer

The  Publisher's brief may contain some or all of the following information.


The Time Factor

It is rare for an Indexer to save a Publisher time in the production cycle.

The Publisher should factor in the following considerations into the project schedule for the book:


Indexing fees

As a result of numerous enquiries regarding fees for different types of indexing, the following general guideline has been drawn up.  This list is based on the type of material and work by an experienced freelance indexer, and should be regarded as a guide only.

Primary and Secondary School textbooks     R25 to R30 per page

Tertiary level textbooks                                 R30 to R35 per page

General non-fiction                                      R35 to R38 per page                                   

                Academic                                      R38 to R45 per page

                Specialised fields                          R40 to R48 per page

E-Pubs                                                          R40 to R45 per page 

An hourly rate is not used, as the speed of indexing varies according to subject knowledge and indexer experience as well as the complexity of the text and other indexable material such as footnotes, end notes, preliminary pages, tables and illustrations.

Please note that unqualified or under-qualified and inexperienced people should not expect to earn the above rates, nor should members of allied associations in writing, editing and translation.

The fees payable should be negotiated by the Indexer and Publisher, and should form a part of the agreement laid down in the Publisher's brief to the Indexer.

Pressure to produce an index in an unusually short time will increase the above rates.  

A roughly normal time schedule for indexing will be approximately 100 pages per week, but other factors as detailed above will increase the time required, as will late amendments and revisions received from the Publisher.

Please note that there are no different (or added charges applied to indexing for subjects such as law, medicine, engineering and economics).  For these and similar subjects, select a knowledgeable subject specialist. However, the rates for specialised fields (see above) could apply in certain circumstances, especially where an in-depth knowledge of the subject is required.

The alphabetical arrangement of indexes is usually the word-by-word method, where short words precede longer words with the same letters. A letter-by-letter arrangement is not usually advised for book indexes as it is often confusing to the reader.

Indexes for electronic publications require specialised knowledge, therefore it is not usually advisable to do a direct conversion of a print book index to an E-Pub index. They can be done at the same time as a print book index, but allowance should be made for electronic retrieval and thus terms may differ. For this reason (and greater complexity) publishers should allocate a higher rate to this work.

Note: It is usual to credit the Indexer in the text credits.


Submitting and editing the Index

The index is usually submitted to the Publisher electronically. There are a number of indexing software packages that can be used for this purpose, but not all indexers use these and a common format used is, therefore, Microsoft Word.

Indexers should consult the Publisher regarding features that facilitate the typesetting process e.g. setting tabs for indents, or using the space bar for aligning indents, hyphenating page llocators, etc..


Proofreading the Index

Indexers should take responsibility for proofreading their indexes once they have been typeset. A number of errors can occur which are often not discerned by the publisher's in-house or freelance proofreaders.

This aspect should be regarded as quality control of your index and is not separately chargeable. Indexers should allocate time for this.

Examples of errors  which can occur after typesetting include:-


Once the book is published the Indexer should receive a complimentary copy from the Publisher


Other considerations

Authors sometimes want to see if the index accurately provides access to their concepts. Find out in good time if this is required and add in additional time for any changes that they may require. The Publisher should also notify the Indexer if later changes may be required after submission of the index.


A new edition of a book needs a completely new index. This should not be based on an earlier design made for different text in an earlier edition of the book. Even if a new indexer is employed to index the new edition, it is advisable for that indexer to start anew and produce an index based entirely upon the new text.

Publishers will not save time in the project process by expecting the work to be based on outdated earlier material.


There are seldom good reasons to revise an index, except if it is new and the Publisher wishes to fit it into a smaller space. Without editing the index, the font size can be reduced and this may solve the problem. Another method is to increase the number of columns per page.

After any such change, it is best to ask the Indexer to check the work. Indexers can identify errors which often bypass in-house proofreaders.


Indexers may sometimes be asked to translate an index in a country where books may be translated into other indigenous languages. 

Please note that this is not a fruitful exercise and an indexer well-versed in the language of the translation should be employed to index the book from scratch. Publishers may expect the index to be translated, but there are linguistic problems with this approach.

There are however, a number of indexers who will index in both English and Afrikaans - refer to FIND AN INDEXER  for these freelancers.  The pool  of trained indexers in other national languages is increasing.


Quality Control of Indexes

The ASAIB Executive Committee trainers offer a service to institutions and publishers to perform quality control checks on indexes produced by beginner and newly appointed indexers with the permission of the indexer concerned.

This service aims to improve the standard of indexing in Southern Africa and may be seen as an adjunct to the mentorship programme already offered by ASAIB.


Indexes for E-books

There is a growing pool of indexers in this field.

This is complemented by the courses in E-Pub indexing offered by ASAIB. The existing one-day introductory course is now to be followed by an additional two-day specialised course to introduce the differences in treatment of terms used for electronic searching.  It is hoped that publishers and authors will avail themselves of the trained freelancers in this field, especially as their expertise increases.

Publishers are advised to ensure this expertise and experience exists as these indexes require a different approach compared to other indexes.

Publishers are also welcome to enquire about this aspect of  ASAIB training, which can be provided in-house for groups of indexers.



Training in bibliographic referencing.

ASAIB's members form part of a group who have specialised in various bibliographic styles.

For this reason, they are the best people to employ for reference checking - in books, journals, and dissertations.

Their training in cataloguing and reference methods has taken place during undergraduate degrees in information science, as well as in the postgraduate diploma and degree studies.

Many of the ASAIB freelancers have been tasked with establishing consistency in various bibliographic styles by different publishers.  It is more cost efficient to remove this task from an editor and entrust it to a highly skilled bibliographer who is easily able to handle the various exceptions which occur in reference lists in whichever style the publisher has set.

This service is also offered to journal editors, and more particularly to editors of journals seeking accreditation.


Charges for bibliographical referencing and reference checking

Basic charges for this service are never levied per item, but per page, and may vary from R50 to R100 per page of references.

This renders the ASAIB freelancer's services highly competitive in today's cost-cutting market. Please note that the bibliographer works only on the reference list and checks any citations in the text for matches to the style selected.


Other services offered

Some ASAIB members produce subject or author/personality bibliographies commissioned by publishers. Please consult the directory in 'Find an Indexer' for individuals who have specialised in compiling bibliographies.