An index is a roadmap to its book. The idea is that you should be able to scan it quickly to find what you’re looking for.
As an indexer, I sure am hoping that what you’re looking for is there—and that you’re able to find it.
There are two main types of indexes. The first is an indented index. If you see each heading (chunk of text) on its own line, then that’s an indented index:
The other main type of index is a run-in index. If you see subentries looking like a paragraph after the main heading then you’re looking at a run-in index:
An indented index is easier to scan to find your information quickly.
A run-in index saves space, using fewer pages in the book.
There are other ways of making a roadmap visible.
For example, the book Knit Your Own Dog by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne offers knitting patterns that produce knitted miniatures of various breeds of dogs. Its index shows a picture of the final version of each breed of dog with the page number as an insert in the photo:
Maira Kalman’s book The Principles of Uncertainty surprised me by including an index. The book is a collection of artwork and photographs with hand-lettered text throughout. The index comes before the appendix, whose items are in red letters in the index, noting the main text pages where the item is mentioned and then its pages in the appendix. The book has a delightful attitude that is carried over into the index, with entries such as “awful lot of hair,” “dust, floating in sunlight,” “for no reason at all,” and “much to do.”
The beautiful coffee table book The Life & Love of Trees by Lewis Blackwell is full of gorgeous photos. It doesn’t have an index per se, but its photo credits pages can serve as a sort of index with its entries in book order. Each entry shows the photo, its page number(s), a title and small description, and the photographer’s name.
The index in this Uline catalog does not have its page numbers in numerical order, as is usually done. Instead, it lists first the number of the page with the greatest number of items offered. For example, the duct tape entry lists page 687 first, which is a page full of three manufacturers’ different duct tapes. Then the entry lists page 665, which has one type of duct tape.
When I first saw this nonnumerical page number ordering, I thought that it was an error. But once I realized what they were doing, I liked it as an efficient way of providing information.
Even my dictionary has an index! This was a surprise to me, but it gives access to extended information contained in the dictionary, such as the periodic table or various calendars.