Why an Index?

"By far, the index is considered to be the most important software documentation support feature." — conclusions of a survey by the Dataquest Desktop Software Support group (1993). 

The index acts as a "quick reference" tool. Its goal is to find 80% of the information, 80% of the time. The index provides the user with a well-known and reliable tool for finding key information quickly.

Users need indexes in

  • user and reference manuals
  • online help
  • CD-ROMs
  • Web and Intranet sites
People typically use documentation — in print or online — when they are trying to solve a problem.  The user needs to find an answer quickly and easily. And the user may already be feeling upset and frustrated.

An index helps the user by 

  • employing the language of the user
  • gathering all significant information together
  • linking related information

Keys to success

A glossary will help ensure consistent terminology within the documentation and in any computer application screens. In turn, consistent use of terminology will assist the indexer to create an effective index. Note that an index is constructed based on topics, concepts, and user tasks — not the simple occurrence of specific words.

To work effectively, an index must be written by a person with professional indexing skills — a poor index will only frustrate the user further.

An effective index

  • provides two or more ways to find each piece of information
  • indexes only significant discussions of a topic
  • covers the entire document at a consistent depth
  • gathers all sub-topics together under a main index entry
  • cross-references related information

Online access

Indexes work together with hypertext links, full-text searching, natural language searching and metadata (e.g. the Keywords Meta tag in HTML) to provide a range of search options. For example, a user may begin by using the index to quickly find key information. Using words from the results of this initial search, the user may then do a full-text search to find other discussions. And hypertext links lead to related examples.

The vital link

The index, more than any other tool, links your user together with your information. A good index will help 
  • improve usability
  • reduce the need for customer support
  • ensure the value of your well-written documentation
Fred Brown
Allegro Technical Indexing
(613) 728-9373

April, 2000
Allegro Time!

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