Samuel Johnson Prize 2014 – shortlisted books

The shortlist was announced on 9th October 2014.

What about the indexes? All the books, so far as I can see actually have indexes, but I couldn’t look at Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk or Marion Coutts’ The Iceberg

What are the issues? Are any of the indexes any good?

  • Long undifferentiated strings of locators. No reader wants to plough though over 20 entries to find one they might be looking for. Take a look at the index to Roy Jenkins by John Campbell here, and the entry for James Callaghan, there are about 30 before you get to the subheadings.
  • Improperly formed headings and subheadings. Well-formed subheadings divide all the locators for a particular heading into useful subheadings and don’t leave long strings of locators stranded at the heading. You might sometimes get locators at the main heading, but they should just be the main and most significant entries, and the subheadings can group up the more scattered locators. Take a look at the index to Empire of Necessity by Greg Grandin here, and see the entries for Argentina on the first page of the index. There are nine locators at the main heading and three subheadings that seem to cover very similar ground.
  • Not helping the reader round the text. Cross references, those see or see also entries are there to be used in circumstances that help the reader. Take a look at the index to Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets here. Under the entry for Jews there are lots and lots of locators, subheadings and cross references from subheadings to main entries. That’s OK, of course, if there’s too much for a subheading and a main entry would be a better place to start looking. However, entries such as “concentration camps sent to see under individual camp name” and “internment camps within France [lots of locators] see also under individual camp name” are not much use if you don’t know the name of the camps. You could look for a main entry of “concentration camps” or “internment camps” but there isn’t one, so you’re still stuck. See under is also a form of cross reference we’re  not encouraged to use these days. See is enough to send you where you need to go, and see also will get you related information.

Useful indexes can only be compiled by experienced indexers who know the rules and how to construct headings that help readers. If you’re an author or editor you can find UK indexers here, why not find one with experience in the subject area the book is writing about. It will help sell your book and please your readers. I’d be happy to help as well.


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