Clarity of goals between professionals and clients is key. In my case, clarity between indexer and client is key. Communication of the goals and constraints facing a client – whether it be targeting a particular audience, working within a certain index size constraint, capturing buzz words that are critical in a given industry, or style preferences – must be the central tenet of establishing a working relationship.
Miscommunication leads to frustration for both parties and time wasted. If, for example, the client truly wants a very basic index only covering the major ideas in the text, providing him with an extremely detailed index is not helpful. The effort that went into the detail is a waste of time for the indexer (and continues to be a waste of time if major revisions are needed), and the client has not received the desired product. Likewise, the opposite is also true – providing little detail for a client that wants a great deal of detail – leads to an unhappy client and major revisions to the index. Situations like this should and can be avoided.
Having a style preference guide – either one supplied by the client or one supplied to the client from the indexer – is a good way to be clear on general style preferences and space constraints.
If the author has published previously, looking at prior indexes may be an easy way to ascertain the general level of detail acceptable to this client. If there is a prior edition of this particular book being indexed, definitely looking at the style of index used is informative. Indexers never necessarily assume that the prior edition’s index was well done, but it does provide information on what the author or editor found acceptable.
Most writers and editors are index users themselves. Giving them an opportunity to voice their ideas, pet peeves about index usability, and goals for this index is important.
Indexers are in the communication business – communicating the author’s ideas and information to the reader. Let’s be certain to open those doors of communication with our clients as well. The end results? Happy clients, satisfied index users, and an indexer with a successful business.