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07 The Index


- Creating your own index

- Before you begin

- Getting started

- What to index

- What not to index

- Laying out your index

- Indexing methods and software

- Schedule

- Components of the index

- Entries

- Sub-entries

- Cross-references

- Locators

- Index style quick reference guide

Tip! Begin thinking about your index as early as possible. Keep a running list of key terms that will help guide a professional indexer, or form the spine of the index that you create.

In many subject areas OUP encourages authors to prepare their own index because they are the best people to predict the use that readers will make of the publication and what topics they might seek in the index. If a professional indexer is commissioned, you may be asked to complete a short briefing note indicating your preferences for the index. (Please note that, if a professional indexer does the work, the author is usually responsible for paying for this.)

Creating your own index

The remainder of this section provides guidance on the preparation of a general index; more detailed instructions may be found in New Hart's Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors.

Tip! A single index is the norm. If you are considering adding more than one index, consult your OUP Editor first.

Before you begin

Organize your approach and understand the restrictions.

  • Think about your main readership and how they will use the index. How heavily will readers be relying on the index to access the text? The heavier the reliance on the index, the more thorough it must be.
  • Organize your thoughts by writing down the key terms around which the index should be structured.

Getting started

What to index

  • Significant names, places, and concepts.
  • Figures, tables, and extra-textual material (as appropriate).
  • The terms you would look up if you were a reader navigating your way through the main themes in your argument. It is important that you think not only of the exact terms frequently used in your manuscript, but also synonyms and central concepts in your field that a reader may be looking for.

What not to index

  • Passing references.
  • Content of the prelim sections such as the preface, acknowledgements, and so on.
  • Captions/legends, chapter headings, and foot/endnotes unless they contain information that does not otherwise appear in the text of that page.
  • The bibliography or reference list.
  • Glossary.
  • Main subjects that encompass the entire title (for example, for a title about protestantism, it is very unlikely that you would need to index 'protestantism').

Laying out your index

  • Prepare in MS Word with the paragraph spacing as double-spaced.
  • Use only one column per page.
  • Start each entry full out against the left-hand margin.
  • Indent any sub-entries (use the tab key to indent).
  • Any entry or sub-entry that exceeds one line should be indented.

abbreviations 360, 362, 370

capitalization 127, 357, 361, 368

cross-references 236, 357, 358, 359–60, 365, 366, 368

double entry 359, 360

indexes and indexing 8, 16, 18, 24, 81, 125, 355–70

Indexing methods and software

Authors use different methods when creating their index. Some write the entry terms on index cards and then organize the index once all the terms have been written. Others highlight the words they plan to index either in the manuscript (and then add page numbers at proof stage) or in the proof pages.

There are commercial software programs available and used by professional indexers. The most well-known are Cindex, Macrex, and Sky. Free trial versions are available for download, although to index a complete title you would need to purchase the full version. You might consider this if you regularly index full books, but it is by no means essential, and OUP does not offer technical support for these programs.


  • Once you receive proofs of the main text, you can begin substituting all the manuscript page numbers with the proof page numbers.
  • Submission is expected with the return of your corrected proofs or shortly afterwards.
  • Your OUP Production Editor will contact you with the exact schedule for the index.

Components of the index


Put simply, an index consists of entries that select important people, places, or concepts discussed in the text and locators that direct readers to the relevant passages in the book (most commonly to a specific page). Entries will usually be nouns, modified if necessary by adjectives, verbs, or other nouns. They may appear in inverted form if the word most likely to be sought is not the first in the indexed phrase.

Tip! Make sure that spellings, hyphenation, capitalization, and other aspects of editorial style in index entries are consistent with the main text.


Sub-entries are used to break down complex main entries and to group related subjects together. For example, the reader will find a single entry on 'mining' with sub-entries on different minerals more useful than multiple entries on 'coal mining', 'diamond mining'. How heavily you need to structure your index and employ sub-entries depends on the complexity of your material and the degree of specialism of your readers. For example, academic books tend to require more detailed indexes, as their readers need to be directed to very specific topics. They are less likely to be reading around the topic as they would in a general (trade) book.

Tip! Consider whether you need to break down an entry with sub-entries when you see:

  • a wide page range: for example, 240–60;
  • an entry pointing to more than six pages or page ranges: 15, 67, 245, 248, 390, 395, 400–2.


Cross-references are used to deal with synonyms and closely related topics. They may, for example, lead from an abbreviation to a spelt-out form or from a common term that the reader may seek to a synonym used in the text. They fall into two classes:

  • Introduced by 'see', they point to a similar entry where the references may be found.
  • Introduced by 'see also', they point from one entry with its own references to further related entries.

cataloguing in publication data, see CIP data
citations, see bibliography; references; titles of works
months 78, 84, 94, 172, 189–90, 195–6; see also dates
Russian 232–5
proper names 113
see also Slavonic languages

Tip! The index must not contain 'blind' cross-references (pointers leading to a non-existent entry) or 'circular' cross-references (pointers leading to an entry that simply points back to the starting place). You should scan through and check for these before submitting the final index.


Unless your work features numbered paragraphs, the locators in the index must refer to the relevant page number. The guiding principle is that you should provide exact page numbers and use the fewest number of figures possible. You must:

  • use page numbers rather than chapter or section numbers;
  • use '65, 66, 67' for isolated references on each of three consecutive pages, but '65–7' for a continuous discussion spanning three pages;
  • use 30–1, not 30–31;
  • use'104–9' not '104 ff.'; it is important to be as precise as possible.

Tip! You may wish to distinguish particular locations (significant discussions, illustrations, figures) by setting the locator in bold, italic, or bold italic type. Use these type styles consistently and add an explanatory note at the head of the index. Use bold type to indicate the most significant discussion and italic type for illustrations.

Index style quick reference guide


Please follow the following stylistic conventions in presenting your index:


  • Entries begin with a lower-case letter unless they are a proper noun.
  • Two spaces separate the entry from the first page locator.
  • Subsequent locators are separated by a comma and space.

income 12, 14–22, 45
taxation 9, 11, 44–9
World Trade Organization 22–8

Page locators

  • Page locators must be specific and elided.
  • Use 44–9, not 44 ff. nor 44–49.
  • There is an exception to this principle for numbers in the teens: use 14–18, not 14–8
taxation 9, 14–18, 44–9, 101–5, 111–13
  • Set out sub-entries—that is, indented by a tab on a new line.
  • Where a main entry has no page locators of its own, punctuate it with a colon as indicated.
  • Sub-entries should be arranged alphabetically by keyword, ignoring prepositions and articles.
coal 12–19, 22–31
diamond 33–5, 37–41
iron 99–101, 112-–14
  • Punctuate cross-references as indicated.
  • Note that 'see' is introduced by a comma and italicized, and that multiple targets are separated by semicolons.
  • If an entry has sub-entries, lay out a 'see also' reference as the last sub-entry. If there are no sub-entries, run it on after a semicolon.
cataloguing in publication data, see CIP data
citations, see bibliography;
references; titles of works
coal 12–19, 22–31
diamond 33–5, 37–41
iron 99–101, 112–14
see also quarrying
months 78, 84, 195–6; see also dates
  • References to dates must be in the form '1814–15', '1950–1', '196–172 BC'. Note '1966/7' indicates a non-calendar twelve-month period between the two spanning years. Do not contract dates involving different centuries: '1789–1810' not '1789–810'.
Lofthouse, Nathanial 'Nat' (1925–2011) 11–12
Premier League season 2008/9 22–3, 24–8
Robson, Sir Robert 'Bobby' (1933–99) 65, 67
Accents and diacriticals
  • Ignore accents and diacritics in alphabetization (including the umlaut: 'ä' is treated as 'a', not as 'ae')
Mc, Mac, and M'
  • Alphabetized as though they were spelt 'Mac'
  • In personal, place, and institutional names, 'St' is alphabetized as 'Saint'
  • Names of saints do not appear in such a sequence but under the given name: thus St Francis would appear as 'Francis, St'.
Foreign names Foreign names are treated in the form familiar to the reader, so we show 'Bartók, Béla' even though in Hungarian the surname comes first.
Identical alphabetized entries

Order as follows:

  • personal name
  • place name
  • subject or concept
  • work title
Saint-Georges, Henri
St James's Infirmary
St John, Cheryl
St Kitts and Nevis
Saint-Martin, Denis
Symbols or numbers

Follow British Standard guidelines and list before the alphabetical sequence, ordered as if spelt out:

  • $ is alphabetized as 'dollar'
  • 10 is alphabetized as 'ten'

Where the names of symbols are problematic, give an umbrella heading for symbols (for example rules of inference, linguistic symbols, coding notation) in addition to alphabetical listings. Check with your OUP Editor if you are unsure what is appropriate for your title.

Ordering names
  • As a rule you should ignore numbers, rank, sanctity, material in parenthesis and prefixes (like de, of, the, von) when arranging alphabetical order
  • Note there may occasionally be a good reason to list people's names in something other than alphabetical order. It may be preferable to use a hierarchical or chronological approach.

John, Pope
John, Augustus

Edward I
Edward II
Edward III

Kipling, Josephine:
  birth 128, 180
  in Vermont 192
  at Torquay 200
  at 'The Elms' 261
  illness and death 128, 195–7

Alphabetical ordering

OUP house style is to use the letter-by-letter system of alphabetical ordering, rather than word-by-word. This means that spaces and hyphens are ignored and do not terminate an alphabetical sequence. In the letter-by-letter style, only commas end an alphabetical sequence and initiate a secondary sequence. This difference can be seen in the example opposite.

You must follow the letter-by-letter style unless you have agreed otherwise with your OUP Editor or Production Editor.

OUP style is
High, J.
high (light-headed)
high chair
Highclere Castle
high heels
Highsmith, A.
High-Smith, D.
high water
High Water (play)
Tip! If you have any questions about the presentation or styling of your index, please do not hesitate to contact your OUP Production Editor.