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This article is from March 24, 2009, and is no longer current.

Real World InDesign Wins Best Index Award


You’ve likely heard me talk about how little I enjoy indexing. I did actually index my own books for a decade (first with highlighter and index cards, then later with PageMaker and QuarkXPress’s indexing features) and it was horrible. I was finally talked out of indexing by Ole Kvern, my co-author on Real World InDesign. He insisted that professional indexers are simply better than authors at indexing books. Authors are too close to the work to see the forest for all the trees, he said.

I finally grudgingly agreed after my wife reminded me that the weeks I’ve spent indexing were typically spent in a semi-comatose state of indigestion and stress. (Nevertheless, it pained me, as we, the authors, had to pay for some of the indexing costs from our own pockets.)

Jan Wright, a longtime friend, indexer, editor, and teacher agreed to index our book. It was good. Actually, it was great. Then she did the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th editions, too. (The 5th edition, for InDesign CS4, has recently been released, with the best index yet.) There’s no doubt in my mind that I could never accomplish that good of an index.

In fact, it’s so good that it* has been awarded this year’s recipient of the ASI/H.W. Wilson Award in Excellence in Indexing. What is particularly amazing about this is that this is the first time a technical manual has won the award!

Here’s a quick explanation from the award committee:

The Wilson Award Committee was impressed by the detailed level of granularity at which the index was written. Every conceivable utility, button, dialog box and menu item was covered in the index. In addition to the granularity, the coverage of the index was exhaustive. There did not appear to be a single concept in the text that was not appropriately covered in the index. Also, as is so important in a technical manual’s index, not only were software features indexed, but actions were as well. That allows users to find information on how to use features not just descriptions of them.

Index entries were appropriately double- or even triple-posted, ensuring multiple access points to information. The index was written in a concise, direct style, resulting in an index with a scientific elegance. Generally short lines, along with a layout that used lots of white space made for easy reading, even at the relatively small font size. Finally, the authors’ use of humor was consistently represented in the index, which is not always an easy thing to carry off.

To me, it’s the humor that really makes this index. Just peruse the index for a couple of minutes and you’ll find yourself chuckling, or even laughing out loud. At least I do. Maybe that just says something about me. Hm.

Anyway, I want to say congratulations to Jan. And admit Ole was right. And generally remind people that the CS4 version of the book is out now. ;)

[*ed note: Technically, its the index in the CS3 version that won.]

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at LinkedIn Learning ( are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
  • I couldn´t agree more, I have wrote 5 books about Adobe CS-products. Every time indexing was originally my job but at the end of process my editor did it, and did it well, better than I could have done.

    PS. Congratulations for award…=)

  • Jeremy says:

    Was the index made using InDesign, or a specialized application (Cindex, Macrex, Sky) for making non-embedded indexes?

    I did the first half of an indexing course a couple of years ago, and was surprised to find that I seemed to be the only trainee indexer who was using InDesign. (And the only one who was not an ex-librarian!)

  • @Jeremy: That’s a great question. No, I don’t know any professional indexer who would use the limited and painfully slow indexing tools in InDesign for anything but a very short index. So, no, Jan indexes the book and sends us an rtf file that we flow into our template.

    The IndexBrutal and IndexMatic scripts can help in some situations. But in general, you need a human touch to do a good index, and that means indexing one page at a time.

  • Jennie says:

    Congratulations David, Ole, and Jan! I haven’t finished the book yet. I’ll have to sneak a peek at the index this evening. I’m glad that your humor carried through the index as well as the book. I enjoy the humor and the content pretty much equally. I’m not sure what that says about me – but I think it is grand!

  • Jeremy says:

    I’m not so sure that InDesign’s indexing capabilities are all that bad… The main reason professional indexers don’t use it is (a) most of them don’t do embedded indexing, and (b) InDesign is a big, complicated application.

    (For non-indexing folk, an “embedded” index is one with markers embedded in the text itself, and links that update with re-pagination. Personally, the very idea of a non-embedded index filled me with existential dread — it just ain’t right! — although admittedly an embedded index does take more time.)

    A small proportion of professional indexers do embedded indexing, but I feel sure that that’s about to change utterly, as more and more publications are made available both on paper and on the web. At the moment, Microsoft Word has considerable embedded indexing capabilities (I’m ignoring the howls of derision here) and most professional indexers who do embedded indexes use it. But InDesign comes a fairly close second, and the more it gets used for “real” indexes, and the more suggestions for improvement are made to Adobe, the better it will get.

  • @Jeremy: Believe me, I would love to have an embedded index! That would make me very happy. I agree that the index tools in ID aren’t awful, but there’s no way I would index a 800 page book with them.

    The first thing Adobe could do to make indexing in ID better would be to make everything keyboard-shortcutable in the Index panel and Page Reference dialog box. The fact that I have to use the mouse to click, drag, double-click, open twirly-triangle things… that is the kiss of death on a long index project. My fingers should never have to leave the keyboard.

    The second thing Adobe needs to do is make the index work better across multiple documents in a book. Yes, you can generate an index across a book, but you cannot build the index… that is, when you add an index entry in chapter 1, you should immediately be able to see that index entry when you’re working in chapter 8! An index must be treated holistically. Right now, the only good way to index a multi-chapter book is to combine the dang thing into a single ID file, which is unpleasant to say the least.

  • Jennie says:

    David, your comment above about “everything keyboard-shortcutable” is so timely for me. I have been trying to master shortcuts…I know a bunch of them and there are about a gazillion left to learn.

    I would urge all CS users to learn the shortcuts. Instead of using the “doctor’s exercise lecture” method (you must exercise at least 300 minutes a day/8 days a week) I have been using my own method. Adding one or two shortcuts each day works much better than trying to memorize the number that we have, just as adding a few more steps each day works better for exercise.

    Of course, the InDesign Secrets Keyboard Shortcut charts are always helpful!

  • Jan Wright says:

    Hi all,

    I just wanted to tell you how cool it was to win the award for David and Ole’s book! Winning was great, but winning with their book is a double pleasure.

    For those who want to know, the index was done with Cindex, and we have kept the index file going through each edition. It would be marvelous to be able to embed it all in InDesign, and I have done books up to about 500 pages embedded in InDesign, but it is a real carpal tunnel hazard! It’s faster and easier for David and Ole to keep the InDesign files so that they can work until the last minute – which they do, believe me. We could do indexing chapter by chapter, but then at the end, I would need all of the files in my hands for the final edit, and that would make David and Ole lose a lot of precious time right when they need it the most.

    InDesign can handle it, but you have to allow the time to do the final edit, and sometimes your workflow just can’t accommodate that.

    Thanks for posting about it, David!


  • Jeremy says:

    I have a copy of the book right here, and both it and the index are superb.

  • As Jan said, one of the most important things in an index is to “do the final edit.” That’s yet another thing that could be so much easier in InDesign. For example, I want features like find duplicates and near-duplicates; set capitalization of second level heads to lowercase; adjust page numbering (so if something shows up on pages 13 and again on 14, I can optionally concatenate them to 13-14), and so on… come on Adobe!

  • Mike Perry says:

    I agree with Jan Wright. Indexing in InDesign is far more work and much clumsier that it should be. It’s also rather confusing if you don’t use it regularly. I use it just enough to hate it.

    Indexing in ID is also feature poor. It lacks a way to apply character styles or formats to parts of an index entry. That’s particularly important when you have book and newspaper titles that need to be italicized.

    There is a work-around. Surround the text to be italicized with a marker. (I use « and ».) Then use a GREP script on the generated index to strip off the marks and apply an italic style. It isn’t perfect and it means that you have to create a separate sort term for those entires. But it beats doing it by hand over and over again.

    Keep in mind a principle that Amity Shlaes applies to economics in The Forgotten Man. The basic idea is that “solutions” to problems or, in this case, enhancements to software, are often driven by factors that leave someone out, a forgotten man, who may hold the key to solving that problem.

    In the case of Shales’ topic, the New Deal, the forgotten men were those who had the talent to create the new ideas that generated new industries and new jobs. For the New Deal, such people were either forgotten, except as a source of tax revenue, or berated as the ‘malefactors of great wealth.’ The result, some economists say, was a Depression that lasted twice as long as it should.

    In the case of InDesign, one of those forgotten people is the solitary indexer. She and others like her don’t buy nearly as many copies of ID as corporate decision makers, and they don’t influence others to buy like those in the technical media. Yet it’s they who know better than anyone what a product needs in the way of enhancements.

    I saw two illustrations of that recently. One of Adobe’s ID programmers admitted to me that a reverse search function in ID would be useful and wouldn’t be that hard to do. Why it wasn’t already there, he didn’t know. I could have said that it was an illustration of the “forgotten man”–poor klutzes like me who have to fix typos in books found by others. Since fixing creates less pagination problems if done back-to-front, we need reverse search.

    Yesterday, I got a called from someone in Florida. He’d seen a posting I’d made blasting text-to-speech in OS X. The accessibility feature, VoiceOver, is far too complex for most people with vision problems to master, I had written, and the Cocoa Text feature for text-to-speech is far too anemic and clumsy. If a former tech writer with normal vision like me, I pointed out, can’t makes sense of VoiceOver documentation, what about those who have to blow that documentation up to 64-point type to read it and who have multiple other issues in their lives? Most will simply give up.

    My Florida caller felt much the same. He knows a lot of older, retired people in Florida who need the sort of assistance text-to-speech provides but can’t begin to master the intricacies of VoiceOver. They’re forgotten people. I encouraged him to contact the accessibility group at Apple, which seems quite open to suggestions, and make their case for enhancing standard text-to-speech to make it both convenient and powerful.

    Forgotten people need to find ways to get heard. If you think ID need something fixed or improved, don’t suffer in silence. Make your voice heard. Keep it up until Adobe listens.

  • Jan Wright says:

    The biggest feature I need in InDesign as an indexer is a way to display the content of the index marker in context in the paragraph or Story Editor, like Word does. Rationale? What’s one of the best reasons to actually index in InDesign? Reusing the material next year without having to re-index it. Easy updates.

    When you reuse material that has been indexed, you have to check paragraphs to see if the indexing still works for the paragraph. Opening each little marker up, or checking the palette for each one, is slow. Reading them in context, like the Note feature, would be ideal. Editing them in context would be even more ideal.

    I do a lot of work in Frame, and with the IxGen utility, I can quickly check paragraphs for updates. We need something similar for InDesign.

  • Jeremy says:

    “What?s one of the best reasons to actually index in InDesign? Reusing the material next year without having to re-index it.”

    As far as I’m concerned, the best reason is you end up with click-able hyperlinks. Then you can put it on the web (or into an interactive PDF, prepare it for Kindle-type devices, etc.) and everyone can instantly jump from the index to the relevant place in the text.

    In the not-too-distant future — maybe it’s here already — we’ll be able to order printed books to measure. People like me will be able to order books with huge writing so I won’t need to wear glasses to read them. The pagination will be different for each client — and the indexes will sort themselves out automatically, as long as they’re embedded.

    InDesign doesn’t do all that bad a job, given that it gives you an embedded index.

  • Jan Wright says:

    Hi Jeremy,

    Yes, the second big reason is portability and changing the output format, and still having an index. That’s the other big hint we need to send to Adobe – when you output for ePub, InDesign drops all the index entries in the output. At least it did in CS3, I need to check this in CS4. That’s not helpful for getting things ready for .mobi or .epub.


  • Jeremy says:

    Hi Jan,

    I’m unfamiliar with .mobi and .epub, but I’m a huge believer in tagged text — no particular format, it might be XML, InDesign tagged text, whatever — and in the ability of text editor programs to re-shape it so that it keeps all relevant info, eventually giving you something that works exactly the way you want it to.

    You did a beautiful index, by the way — the main ideas distilled to crystalline purity, like the best gin!

    Cheers — Jeremy

  • In case anyone wants to read Jan’s award acceptance speech, you can find it here. She is so funny; what a great honor.

  • John Mohn says:

    I cannot figure out how to place an Index in my book after I have created it. (CS4) My cursor will not place the index in the box. Where can I find help?

  • @John: Hm, this is a funny place to ask about indexing… though I guess there is a tie-in. ;)
    Perhaps the frame is on a locked layer? I suggest clicking on Forums at the top of the page and posting a new topic asking your question there, too.

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