Know your audience.
What? It’s an index–why do I need to consider the audience? An index is pretty straight-forward, right? Why, yes. Unless of course you’re not using google and you’re attempting to create order out of bits and pieces of information and organize the information into logical, meaningful references for people you will most likely never meet.
Quality indexing skills are parallel to those of quality document design skills. They’re invisible.
Key concepts learned in this class include:
- the functionality of an index is only as good as the author who has written for a specific readership
- it is helpful to think of writing an index like flipping the work inside out (again, the rhetorical jigsaw puzzle)
- indexing books is a form of writing; it is challenging and highly intuitive
- learning about the existence of The American Society of Indexers an organization committed to excellence in indexing standards and increases awareness of quality designed indexes
With the exception of teaching elementary school for three years, I had worked in financial aid offices for twelve years. At FAU I coordinated the Pell Grant program for the university. I knew about Title IV regulations, federal aid programs, and how to piece financial aid together to benefit students. The Private Scholarship Office at UALR was established in 2007 and was created with the purpose of providing a central place on campus to coordinate all privately donated scholarship dollars. Prior to this office being established all private scholarships were administered through the UALR Office of Development. I was hired to administer scholarships and be the liaison between the Development Office and all departments on campus.
My first day on the job I was given “the scholarship booklet,” a booklet “published” annually that had a list of private scholarships available to UALR students. My first task was to move “the booklet” to an online environment. In so doing, the audience shifted from students who were flipping through the booklet looking for scholarships, to anyone who could access our website: no longer one person who had the hard copy book in their hand. The audience now included parents, community organizations, donors, other faculty and staff members, etc. My job was to figure out how individuals interacted with the information and offer a comprehensive reference that would invisibly enhance the experience of the user. As I met with deans, chairs, and department heads, I asked how they would like to see information listed. I asked what would be most beneficial. Our campus had a love/hate relationship with the booklet. In an effort to provide a satisfactory end user experience I created three indexes: a comprehensive listing by scholarship name, a listing by college and department, and a comprehensive listing by name, college, and department for a future database.
The process of this project was a bit daunting at first due to the scope and disorganization of these accounts. Through understanding the rhetorical theory of the indexing process and my informal surveys when visiting with individuals on campus, it became clear to me that if I was going to create an index that would be helpful I had to consider the needs of my readers and how they’d interact with the text. Who will be using the index? What information will they be seeking? The goal of the writer is to anticipate the needs of the reader and add value to the user experience. I found this to be largely an intuitive process. For an index to be effective the writing and organization must be rooted in the meeting the needs of the audience. As with quality document design, quality indexing is invisible. You only see “it” when “it” isn’t done well.