Alphabetizing an Index

It is important to alphabetize your index in a consistent manner. Otherwise, your readers may become confused or miss an important entry. There are two basic ways to alphabetize, or sort, an index:
  • word by word
  • letter by letter
In the word-by-word sort, a space is alphabetized before any letters or numbers. For example, "off switch" would come before "Offenbach." In a letter by letter sort, the spaces between words are ignored, so "Offenbach" would come before "off switch."

FrameMaker uses the word-by-word sort order by default. Because people are familiar with dictionaries, the word-by-word sort order will be familiar. In some cases, the letter-by-letter sort order will keep certain like entries closer together. You can always try both ways and see what happens.


Commas can cause problems for FrameMaker and other desktop publishing software because there are two ways of interpreting a comma:
  • separating off a subentry (where a main entry has only one subentry), for example, "attics, insulation of"
  • dividing elements of a list (serial comma), for example, "color, texture and pattern"
Alphabetization stops at a comma that divides a main entry from a subentry. However, with a term such as "color, texture and pattern" you would not want to stop the alphabetization at the comma. In FrameMaker, you can handle such tricky sort order issues, simply, by specifying how to sort the particular entries in question. For example, in FrameMaker, you would code "color, texture and pattern" as follows:

color, texture and pattern[color texture and pattern]


In subentries, you ignore any leading articles or prepositions: In the following example,

    Allies’ treaty
    Central Power ally
    joins Balkan League
    and Russia

the last subentry would be coded in FrameMaker as

Bulgaria:and Russia[Bulgaria:Russia]

Add to Your Checklist

When checking your index, be sure to look for any entries or subentries that may be out of order.

Fred Brown
Allegro Technical Indexing
(613) 728-9373

January, 2001
Allegro Time!

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