As with many industries, indexers need to know when to accept a project and when to walk away. We all have fields of study in which we work comfortably. Stretching the bounds of that comfort zone is healthy, but recognizing our own limitations is only fair – to our clients and ourselves.
By in large, indexers come to the profession after years in other fields of work. Those business and life experiences provide us with a knowledge base that we apply to our understanding of the material we are indexing. Our recognition of terms of art, well-known individuals, or relationships between concepts in particular fields allows us to create indexes that do justice to the author’s work. Tackling subjects well outside our knowledge base tends to lead to poorly constructed indexes.
So where are the boundary lines? Quality work and honest working relationships lead to repeat business. Indexing in fields that are familiar and with which we are well versed generally leads to a quality index. Being honest enough with our clients to admit when a subject is beyond our knowledge level gains the respect of that client, confirming that we always want to provide them with the caliber of work they deserve, even if another indexer is needed.
Thanks to many professional connections – via online tools such as LinkedIn or indexing listservs, or in-person communication such as American Society for Indexing conference attendance and communication – we are usually able to help our clients find the right indexer for them, if we are not the best choice this time. That professionalism has benefits to the client (who will reward us in the future with other projects that we do feel able to accept) and to our indexing community (as we share our work opportunities with those for whom the project is well suited). In the meantime, our mental health is also saved by not being mired in a project that we do not understand and for which we know we are not doing a quality job.
That said, there are certainly times when spreading our wings is a positive move. Accepting a project that is outside of our exact areas of expertise but within our bounds of comprehension makes sense. If one has indexed in the field of public health, moving into social science material may work. Or an indexer who has indexed general business books may find business law a natural extension. Making those determinations is never simple. Reading a sample of the text is key… if our response to the text is “what?” – pass the project along. We won’t be doing ourselves or our clients any favors by accepting.
Acting with professionalism in all aspects of our work, including recognizing our own limitations and sharing the wealth of projects with other indexers, will benefit us all in the end.