An index is an alphabetical list of all the major topics and somtimes sub-topics discussed in a piece of technical writing. An index cites where each topic can be found and allows readers to find information on particular topics quickly and easily. The index always comes at the very end of the work.

They key to compiling a good index is selectivity. Instead of listing every possible reference to a topic, select references to passages where the topic is discussed in depth. For the index entries, select those words or phrases that best represent a topic. Key terms are those that a reader would most likely look for in an index. For index entries on tables and illustrations, use the key words in their titles.

Compiling an Index

Building an index should always be postponed until the final manuscript of the work is completed because pafe numbering will not be accurate before then.The best way to compile a list of topics is to read through your written work from the beginning and each time a key term appears in a significant context, list the term and its page on a 3x5 index card. Below is a sample index entry with entries, sub-entries and sub-sub entries:

Paragraphs 434
   coherence 96-100
         flow 97
         clarity 98
   transition 640
   unity 648

Wording Index Entries

The first word of an index entry should be the principal word, because a reader will look for topics alphabetically by their main words. Selecting the right keyword can be tricky. For instance, an entry with two keywords, like electrical wire, should be indexed under each word (electrical wire and wire, electrical). Index entries should be written as nouns or a noun phrase rather than as an adjective alone.


Cross-references in an index help readers find other related topics in the text. Cross references do not include page numbers; they merely direct readers to anothe index entry, where they can find page numbers. There are two kinds of cross-references: see references and see also references.
See references are most commonly used with topics that can be identified by several different terms. Listing the topic page numbers by only one of them terms, the indexer then lists the other terms throughout the index as see references.

  • Economic costs. See Benefit-cost analysis

See also references indicate othe entries that include additional information on a topic.

  • Ecological programs, 40-90
       See also Monitoring programs


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