Resources on how to make indexes

In this blog post, I am going to list the most important resources on creating indexes that are available in Dutch and English. In doing so, I will try to strike a balance between information that can be accessed for free and information that you have to pay for.

To start with, I want to point out that there is a lot of information on The Indexer magazine’s website. You can use the indexes there to search for information. Once you have found an interesting article, go to the website of Liverpool University Press to download it. All articles older than 5 years are available for free. The websites of our sister organisations are also great sources of information.


The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is a non-governmental federation of national standards bodies from 168 countries. It promotes the development of standardisation and related activities around the world. The standards that they issue are a kind of formulas describing the best way to do something. For compiling indexes, the ISO 999:1996 standard (revised 2020) applies. That contains the basic rules that every professional indexer should work with. The standard is behind a paywall and currently costs about €170. As the standard dates from 1996, it will soon be replaced by an entirely new one (ISO/AWI 999). It is therefore wiser to use the ANSI/NISO standard listed below, which already incorporates the more modern insights. The style guides listed also give a better picture of current practice, while all three are based on the ISO 999:1996 standard.

ANSI/NISO Z39.4-2021 Criteria for Indexes (2021). The National Information Standards Organisation in the US has issued its own standard aimed at the US market. Its informal name is the NISO standard. However, much of the information is universally applicable. As a PDF file, the NISO standard is available here for free.

Style Guides

Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago University Press). This style guide is aimed at the US market and has a separate chapter on indexing. This chapter is also available as a stand-alone booklet under the title Indexes: A Chapter from the Chicago Manual of Style. The latest edition is the 17th from 2017. An e-book version of it has also been published. 

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide (Oxford University Press: 2016). A style guide aimed at the UK market. The latest edition is from 2016 and is now called New Oxford Style Manual. There is one chapter specifically on indexing, but unfortunately this is not available separately. However, an e-book version of the complete book has been published.


General Manuals

Indexing Books (2nd edition) by Nancy C. Mulvany (University of Chicago Press: 2005). This is the most common textbook in use today. It is the only textbook still available new. There is also an e-book version.

Indexing: The Manual of Good Practice by Pat F. Booth (K.G. Saur: 2001). This is a manual that is qualitatively similar to Nancy Mulvany’s book. It is only available second-hand or through the library. The information on computer programmes in this book is now obviously outdated.

Indexing from A to Z, 2nd edition by Hans H. Wellisch (H.W. Wilson: 1996). This is the best handbook ever published on indexing, but as in Indexing by Pat Booth, the information in it on computer techniques is very dated. It is also very scarce, which is why booksellers dare to charge insane prices for it. Some poking around on the internet pays off.

You really need one of the above handbooks, but should price be an important consideration, you can opt for ASI Best Practices for Indexing (ASI: 2015) for now. This pdf file was compiled by the American Society for Indexing. It is obviously aimed at the US market, but is full of useful basic information. The file is available here to download.

For general information in Dutch, there is not very much choice. Eureka! Handleiding voor het samenstellen van registers by Monique de Koning (Samsom: 1999) is the only book ever published in Dutch on the subject. It is unfortunately no longer available, but can sometimes still be found second-hand or in a library. It is an excellent concise overview of the basic techniques of indexing.

Tekstblad, the magazine on text and communication, devoted two articles in 2007 to creating indexes. Together, they form a concise general introduction. The articles by Pierke Bosschieter can be downloaded here and here.

Handbooks for Beginners and Starters

Handbook of Indexing Techniques by Linda Fetters (Information Today: 2013) is written specifically with the beginner in mind. It is available from the publisher and there is an e-book version.

The Accidental Indexer by Nan Badgett (Information ToDay: 2015). This book is also aimed at the novice indexer. It offers valuable advice, including smart tips on setting up and running a freelance indexing business. It is available from the publisher in both print and e-book formats.

Indexing Tactics & Tidbits by Janet Perlman (Information ToDay: 2016) is a good introduction to indexing. It may be especially useful for someone who is not sure if they want to pursue a career in indexing. It is available from the publisher

Advanced Manuals

Facing the Text by Do Mi Stauber (Cedar Row Press: 2004). This book is indispensable if you want to know more about construction and structure of the index. The book can be ordered from the author’s own website.

Ten Characteristics of Quality Indexes by Margie Towery (Information Today: 2016). This book is aimed at the advanced indexer who wants to take his or her knowledge to the next level. The main themes are the usability and accessibility of an index. Unfortunately, even this fairly recent book is already hard to come by.

Handbooks for Technical Writers

There are some editions aimed specifically at technical writers who want to compile their own indexes. These are particularly useful for indexes in manuals and other technical documents.

The Art of Indexing by Larry Bonura (Wiley: 1994). Fortunately, it is still readily available and affordable.

Indexing: A Nuts-and-Bolts Guide for Technical Writers by Kurt Ament (William Andrew: 2001). This book is also readily available and affordable. 

Basic Book of Technical Writing by Peter van Bart and Michaël Steehouder (Van Gorcum: 2008). The book is out of print, but the chapter on compiling indexes by Pierke Bosschieter can be downloaded here.

History of the Index

There is a great book available on the history of the index: Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan (Allen Lane: 2021). It contains the necessary humour and reads nicely. I recommend it to anyone interested in the phenomenon of the index. A German translation has also recently been released: Index, eine Geschichte des (Antje Kunstmann: 2022). Both books are also available in an e-book edition. We hope that the book will also be translated into Dutch.

Henry B. Wheatley’s book, What is an Index? A Few Notes on Indexes and Indexers (Forgotten Books: 2017), provides a historical overview of the birth and development of the index, alongside examples of how the compilation of an index was done in 1879.

Upcoming Blog Posts

There will be several blog posts coming soon containing resources for creating indexes for special topics and genres. You can think about creating name indexes, indexes for biographies, cookbooks, religious texts, and legal works.