Inside Indexing:
The Decision-Making Process

by Sherry Smith and Kari Kells


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Copyright 2006
Smith and Kells
Northwest Indexing Press

Full Reviews

Cheryl Landes
STC member
In-house technical indexer

Inside Indexing fills a void that has existed for decades. The thought process of analyzing text has been a topic of discussion in the indexing world for years, but no one - until now - has documented how they do it. Sherry Smith and Kari Kells provide immaculate detail on how they decided to write the entries for the indexes they created for Eben Fodor's book, Bigger Not Better: How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community. I felt as though I wassitting next to them while they were reading and analyzing Fodor's text and making decisions about how to index the content. The examples they provide to justify their decisions are specific and clear.

Despite my 14 years of experience as a technical indexer, I learned a lot from this book. Up to this point, I hadn't been as consciously aware of the thought process I used as an indexer. This book gave me insight into my indexing methods and fostered new ideas that I can incorporate in future indexing projects.

Every indexer needs a copy of this book in their libraries. It's an indispensable, priceless resource.

L. Pilar Wyman
Key Words editor
USDA indexing course instructor

Comparing indexes by different indexers is one thing. Getting a chance to hear how they decided to index the way they did -- now that is a treat! Sherry and Kari have allowed us to sit as flies on the wall while they each wrote an index for the same work. They have provided a real service to book indexers everywhere. Any indexer who does not take the time to read and study their text is letting a rare opportunity slip through their fingers.

What I find unique about this text is the insight into another indexer's thought. It's intriguing to see how Sherry worked, and to compare her strategies and decisions with Kari's... I found the detailed feedback and summaries of each indexer's decision making very interesting. This will be helpful for beginners and established indexers alike (the latter may find it reassuring, or a window into new ways of working).

It's very interesting to see the processes -- term selection and otherwise! -- that two different professionals take as they write an index for the same work. I always enjoy comparing indexes to the same work. There's no doubt in my mind as to the utility this book will provide for beginners and other students of indexing. Kari and Sherry have provided a wonderful service with this book.

Jan Wright
indexer and taxonomist

Inside Indexing is a valuable and very personal contribution to indexing literature. Sherry Smith and Kari Kells give you a real world example of approaching a single text, each in their own way: analyzing structure, creating entries, and pulling work together into a finished index. Each indexer reveals their own work patterns, habits, and processes as they approach this project, writing about time constraints, phrasing issues, and audience orientation. The illustrated examples show each indexer's work at various stages, and their question-and-answer sections help to reveal even more of their thought processes for several aspects of the work. Inside Indexing is a concrete, thought-provoking, and tip-filled book that beginning indexers will find invaluable, and established indexers will find intriguing.

Janet Perlman
ASI member, Arizona chapter
and winner of the 2006 Hines Award

I'm captivated. I could feel the creative process working overtime when I read your chapters. You did indeed think outside the box in making the choices involved in how you did the book and its physical format, and it's just exciting all around. I will have no trouble recommending it to everyone I know! There's nothing else like it around.

The idea of looking into the minds of two indexers as they work and make decisions along the way is brilliant. It provides a counterpoint of ideas as the unique format for the book. Ideas and decisions are clearly analyzed and stated, creating both clarity and intellectual tension. I found myself thinking 'Which is better? Both are correct. What would I do?' as I read chapter after chapter.

When you pick up this book, you are taking a walk inside very creative minds.

Inside Indexing provides a window to two very different minds at work, and the presentation of two very different points of view in each chapter is incredibly thought-provoking. The book is rare in its succinctness and clarity as both Sherry and Kari articulate their own analytical and decision-making processes as they create an index.

Inside Indexing will surely become a classic for all indexers. It is a book to be read and re-read at various points in an indexer's life - the kind of book that will continue to yield fresh insights, no matter where in your career or development you are! It isn't an 'easy read.' It takes work - there's a lot to think about and digest. But it's definitely a 'must read'!

Jerry Katz
author of One: Essential Writings on Nonduality

Co-author Sherry Smith reveals that in her final editing of an index she begins with the shortest alpha group, usually the Qs. “Starting with the simpler and easier helps me be more productive.” So me too. In a Quiznos tv ad for their prime rib on garlic bread, an actress declares, “It’s not lacking any meat. And that’s what real women need!” That’s what Inside Indexing is all about. It is stuffed with tips, deeply explicated and resolved indexing challenges, and questions that fuel fine indexing.

This book is about two different indexers and their journey in indexing a book on urban growth called Better Not Bigger, by Eben Fodor. You will learn who Sherry Smith and Kari Kells are and what, why, and how they index. If you are a beginning indexer (that is, you have completed a good indexing course and have indexed a few books beyond the course), your indexing mind will be shaped by these two teachers. There’s no question about that. You will collect so many helpful suggestions on indexing that you’ll want to type and print them out.

The first observation the reader may make is the difference between Kells and Smith regarding audience emphasis. Kari Kells says, “I focus most intensely on audience at the beginning of my process and again at the end. However, they are a factor in every indexing decision that I make.”

Sherry Smith is also influenced by the audience, but emphasizes content: “Seldom will I ask myself, ‘What do readers need from this page?’ Instead, I focus on the content by asking ‘What is on this page?’ Once I identify that content, I phrase my entries so that a variety of readers will find them useful.”

If you’re a beginning indexer I’ll bet my collection of cigar cutters that after reading the above two paragraphs you’re inquiring about your own attitude toward the audience. That’s what this book does. It helps to shape your indexing mentality by bringing you to a place where you have to take a look at it. Inside Indexing is an extremely valuable book for new indexers.

It’s hard to say which chapter is most important. Of course it depends on what the reader might stumble on or require at the moment they are reading. In general, I think it is either the chapter on analysis or the one on gathering.

In the analysis chapter Smith gives a breathtaking discussion on indexing the concept of “land.” Listen to part of it: “When I reach pages 24, 25, and 33 during my second pass, I see a potential strategy that will begin consolidating the index structure so that each idea becomes a useful subentry instead of a distracting main heading. First, I change the main heading ‘land consumption’ to a subentry ‘consumption rates’ under ‘land.’ I then change the wording of the main heading ‘land development scheme’ to the more neutral and informative word ‘development tactics’ and place it under ‘land.’ This last change addresses my earlier worries about biased wording.”

Also in the chapter on analysis Kari Kells takes the reader’s breath away with her discussion on revealing “relationships that aren’t overtly presented in the text itself.” Kari writes, “Another of my editorial changes involves the in-migration discussion on pages 42-44. I originally created this main heading for discussions in other parts of the book. While editing, I realize that ‘in-migration’ is a concept that also applies to page 43 even though there aren’t explicit mentions of in-migration in the passage. If I create a subheading here for page 43, will readers expect to see the term ‘in-migration’ on page 43? If so, does that mean I should avoid using the term when referring to this page? And if I avoid using the term, how else can I provide access from the main heading ‘in-migration’ to page 43? I choose to keep this entry until I can come up with a better solution.”

Does Kari end up keeping the entry or not? Find out by reading her (and Sherry’s) final index for Bigger Not Better at

There are so many valuable gems that I like in this book that I have to stop myself. This review is already way too long. One more mention is the design of the book. Different fonts are effectively used to distinguish the writings of Smith, Kells, and their common voice. The book is wider than long (hence the sub sandwich analogy at the beginning of the review actually makes some sense), and this shape allows a nice amount of space on the right side of each page for text boxes containing examples of the actual index being composed by each author.

Martha Osgood’s index to Inside Indexing is another slice of goodness: a pleasure to view, read, and use.

Order Inside Indexing: The Decision-Making Process and expand yourself as an indexer. Quick.