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Subject Indexing Process

Subject Indexing Process

  • What is an index? 
  • What are the most trusted definitions of an index? 
  • What is subject indexing? 
  • What is the subject indexing process? 


The term ‘index’ has been derived from the Latin word ‘indicare’ which means to indicate or to point out. Here it refers to guide to a particular concept in a document.

Index is a systematic guide of items contained in a document or concepts derived from it. Items denote the name of the author, title, etc.; concepts may be like classification, cataloging, etc. To elaborate a bit more it may be said that an index is a systematic guide to the items of published literature in a collection or concepts derived from a collection.

The purpose of an index is to locate and retrieve the needed items or concepts in a collection.

An index is consist of entries. Each entry is a unit of an index. These entries are arranged in a systematic order.

An index consists of two parts:

(i) Descriptive part – It gives items, ideas, and concepts 
(ii) Location Part – It gives the location where the items or concepts have been discussed or is available.

Chakrabortty and Chakrabarti define an index as:
          “A systematic guide to the items of a collection or the concepts derived from it. It comprises entries arranged in a known or searchable order, with references to show where each item indexed is located.”
The British Standard B.S. 3700:1954 defines an index as:
          “A systematic guide to the location of words, concepts or other items in books, periodicals or other publications. An index consists of series of entries appearing, not in the order in which they appear in the publication, but in some others (e.g. alphabetic) chosen to enable the users to find them quickly, together with to show where each item is located”.
The Harrod’s Librarians’ Glossary defines an index in the following ways:
1. A systematically arranged list giving enough information for each item to be traced by means of a page number or other symbol indicating its position in a sequence.
2. A systematic guide to the location of the words, concepts or other items in publications, documents, and other records. An index consists of a series of entries appearing in some logical order, usually alphabetical, which enables the user to find then easily, together with references to show where each item is located.
3. A systematic guide to items contained in, or concepts derived from a collection. These items, or derived concepts, are represented by entries arranged in a known, or stated, searchable order such as alphabetical, chronological or numerical.
(ANSI  Z39.4-1968)

Subject Indexing Process
          Subject indexing is the process used for describing the subject matter of documents. Subject indexing involves assigning terms to represent what the document is about.
          Subject indexing is a crucial operation in the creation and maintenance of index file, as retrieval of information depends to a large extent on the quality of indexing. The process of subject indexing involves basically three steps.:
Familiarization => Analysis => Representation
The first step towards a successful index is familiarization. The indexer must become conversant with the subject content of the document. The most reliable way to determine the subject content is to read or examine the work in detail. It is always wise to look beyond the title for ascertaining the subject content of the document, e.g. table of contents, chapter headings, preface, introduction, opening phases of chapters and paragraphs, book jacket, etc. Reference sources may also be consulted and occasionally, subject specialists may have to be consulted, particularly when the subject matter in unfamiliar to the indexer.
          Subject analysis is the second step prior to the selection of index-terms. After examining the document, the indexer needs to follow a logical approach in selecting those concepts which best express its content. Sometimes guidelines are provided that may go the same way towards instructing indexers in the consistent identification of concepts.
          Once the subject analysis of the document is completed, the final step is to represent the selected concepts in the language of indexing system (as index entries). The indexer should be familiar with the indexing tools, and their working rules and procedures in order to ensure that concepts are organized in a usable and accessible form.

  • Information Access Through The Subject : An Annotated Bibliography / by Salman Haider. - Online : OpenThesis, 2015. (408 pages ; 23 cm.)


  • Salman Haider 

  • Last Updated: 2019-07-03 
  • Written: 2016-05-21

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