The Job and What's Involved

An indexer compiles the list at the end of a printed or digital document that helps readers search for names or topics included in the text.

Indexers may create indexes for:

- Non-fiction books of all kinds

- Technical manuals.

- Digital files or CD-ROMs

- Website's

The skill of indexing is increasingly important in the digital environment, as it is a key part of the broader process of metadata creation.

It is an intellectually demanding role. Indexers need a thorough knowledge of the subject, as well as a high standard of accuracy. They analyse the material, identifying the names and topics that are most important. They organise this information into an alphabetical list so that users can:

  • Find information on a particular topic.
  • Return to passages they remember reading.
  • Scan the index to see what the document is about.

The job involves:

  • Becoming familiar with the text of the document.
  • Drawing up a list of the names and topics that will be most useful to the reader.
  • Sorting this information into alphabetical order, with page or paragraph references to help readers locate these subjects.
  • Supplying the completed index to the publisher or employer by a set deadline.

Indexers work either from 'page proofs', which are the printer's images of how the document will look when printed; or they work from portable document format (pdf) files and libraries or archives of finished documents.

Indexes are usually compiled using a computer. Indexers may use specialised software to help with some of the more routine processes. They may also be required to check details of the content in reference books and on the internet.

Indexers do much of their work alone. However, they must liaise closely with the publishers of the work or their employers.

Some indexers combine indexing with other freelance publishing work, such as copy-editing and proofreading.

Most indexers are self-employed, and generally work from home. They use their own computers and software, receiving and submitting work by email.

Their hours and workflow are likely to be irregular. Indexing is one of the final tasks to be carried out before publication, and delays at this stage can severely disrupt the production schedule. As a result, indexers sometimes need to work unsocial hours to ensure they can deliver the index by a set deadline.

There are increasing in-house opportunities for scanning and indexing clerks and administrators. This work often involves the use of computer software to organise the massive documentation produced by organisations such as banks, local authorities and the police.

Indexers negotiate their own fees with clients. The Society of Indexers (SI) suggests a minimum hourly rate of £20.50 for creating a simple index. Higher rates may apply where work is more complex or specialised, or where the schedule is particularly demanding.

A newly qualified indexer establishing a client base may command fees totaling around £3,000 to £5,000 a year.

Scanning and indexing clerical jobs may pay up to £15,000.

The most experienced indexers, doing specialised work, may earn up to £30,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

More than 1,000 individuals currently carry out indexing work in the UK. Of these, only around 25 per cent work full time as indexers.

Indexers are generally self-employed. Most indexers work remotely, so it is possible to work in all areas of the UK. Their clients are usually specialist or mainstream publishers or agencies, often based in cities around the UK.

After qualifying as an indexer, it may take some time to build up regular business. However, established and reliable indexers are in demand. Indexers gain commissions through advertising their skills and making contacts in the industry.

Indexers often have specialist knowledge. Those with a background in law, medicine, finance or science and technology subjects are likely to be in greatest demand.

Education and Training

Almost all indexers have a degree or equivalent qualification. The minimum requirements for a degree are normally five GCSE's (A*-C) and two A levels, or equivalent.

A recognised qualification in indexing, offered by organisations such as the SI or Book Indexing Personal Tuition (BIPT) can help indexers to secure work.

Indexing is often taken up as a second career, drawing on a level of expertise developed in another field.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There are several training providers, with the SI, BIPT and Association for Information Management (Aslib) being three of the most prominent.

SI offers a distance-learning course aimed at individuals who want to become professional indexers. The course takes around 200 hours of home-based study. This can be completed within a year if worked on full time, though it is more usual to take between one and a half and two years. Students may take up to five years in total to complete the course.

The course involves four formal tests, taken at home within a set time limit. Candidates for the tests must be paid-up members of SI. They are then required to index a complete book or document. Those who complete the course successfully become accredited indexers and can advertise themselves in the SI directory.

BIPT offers a distance-learning course in practical indexing, by email. It consists of a booklet and six tutorials, based on constructing indexes for several short texts. Successful completion is equivalent to the SI accreditation; however from 2012 indexers will not be included on the SI list unless they have additional SI qualifications.

Aslib offers indexing training especially for librarians, but the courses are open to the public. They are one-day courses based in London.

Indexers who work in a specialised area of publishing are required to keep their specialist knowledge up to date.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An indexer needs:

  • Excellent written English, including spelling.
  • Accuracy and attention to detail.
  • A highly organised approach.
  • Wide general knowledge.
  • Self-motivation.
  • Up-to-date computer skills.
  • The ability to scan text quickly and absorb its meaning.
  • The ability to produce high-quality work within strict deadlines.
  • Good personal communication skills and the ability to build relationships.
  • To be unfazed by working on material with which they might not agree.

Your Long Term Prospects

Indexers generally advance their careers by building their businesses and attracting new clients.

Accredited indexers with extensive experience can undergo a rigorous assessment by the SI to attain Fellowship status. Some editors seek out indexers with this advanced qualification.

SI runs a workshop and conference programme to help indexers update their skills and provided the opportunity to network with other indexers. Local groups of members exist in various parts of the UK.

Indexers may broaden their skills by training in related subjects, such as copy-editing or proofreading.

Get Further Information

The Association for Information Management,
207 Davina House, 137-149 Goswell Road,
London EC1V 7ET
Tel: 020 7253 3349

Book Indexing Personal Tuition (BIPT),
Ann Hall, The Lodge, Sidmount Avenue,
Moffat, Dumfries DG10 9BS
Tel: 07708 571548

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900

Society of Indexers (SI),
Woodbourn Business Centre,
10 Jessell Street, Sheffield S9 3HY
Tel: 0114 244 9561

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