Can a Computer Write an Index?

Can a Computer Write an Index?

Carol Saller answers this question with elegance in her Chronicle of Higher Education article “Is a Computer the Right Person for the Job?

An index, after all, is not a list or an outline or a concordance. In its highest incarnation, it is more like a map or tree showing the looping and scattered relationships of topics and subtopics throughout a book. Indexers harvest <i>concepts</i> as much as words; their index entries regularly feature words that never appear themselves in the text being indexed.

Martha Osgood, on her very informative Back Words Indexing site, also discusses computers as indexers.

Indexing ultimately organizes “aboutness” for quick recall. The computer and its software assist, but the human mind alone can speak to the concept of “aboutness.” If a term or concept is not specifically articulated on a page, a computer cannot choose it for the index, nor can a search engine find references to it.

Still have questions? Contact a human indexer: Sue at


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