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Book Indexes

Frank Carver

Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
How do you use the index in a technical book?
Maybe I'm wierd, but I almost always find the indexes in computer books to be less useful than they could. My first step when looking something up is to head for the index, and this is often a disappointment.
In my mind there is a big difference between a table of contents (at the front of a book), and an index (at the back). The table of contents should list the major sections of the book, perhaps with a description. The index should enable a reader to go straight to the part(s) of the book which are about a particular word or phrase.
All to often, it seems, indexes are generated simplistically and mechanically or based on the appearance of a few seemingly haphazardly-chosen words in the text. The index becomes bloated with references to pages where a term is merely referenced making it much harder to find ones where it is defined (or at least definitively used).
Surely the point of an index is to aid readers who wish to approach a book in a way unexpected by the author/publisher. Yet, in many cases, the words in the index are substantially the same as those in the table of contents. Other words, equally important from the viewpoint of an arbitrary reader, appear in the book, but are not in the index.
I'm sure that there are books where the index really works, but I find so few that I long for the power of "grep" or "google". This is especially ironic in computer books, where one might expect indexing to be powerful and flexible.

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Jason Menard

Joined: Nov 09, 2000
Posts: 6450
It seems that indexes used to be genuinely useful, but alot of the books coming out nowadays, while they might be excellent books, have really crappy indexes.
Thomas Paul
mister krabs
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 05, 2000
Posts: 13974
I recall one Wrox book (a .NET book if I remember correctly) that had a fantastic index beautifully laid out to allow you to get the page number for virtually anything you could want. The only problem was that most of the page numbers were wrong!

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Mark Spritzler

Joined: Feb 05, 2001
Posts: 17276

The reference part is what always gets me annoyed.
They'll have the word and like 5 or 6 pages, and when you go to them they are only used as a reference, not the actual subject of the page.
Usually if the word in the book doesn't help, I then resort to the Google search.

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Amy Phillips
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 02, 2003
Posts: 280
I always find it frustrating that technical books often fail to indicate which is the main reference, for example in an encyclopedia the main page is shown in bold and the ones makinf a reference in normal.
I think it is often difficult to find things in the index of a programming book because what you are looking for has a specific name or keyword which unless you know...
Still when they get it right its good
I agree. Here's the link:
subject: Book Indexes
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