Microsoft Word Tips: Creating an Index
  • 3-minute read
  • 30th December 2017

Microsoft Word Tips: Creating an Index

Manual indexing is a specialist skill. Creating an index takes patience and attention to detail, after all. But, as with most things in modern life, technology has provided us with a simpler option.

In particular, Microsoft Word can automatically generate an index for any document. But while this is definitely easier than indexing the old-fashioned way, there are still a few things you need to know if you want to do it right. Luckily, we’re here to offer some formatting tips.

When to Add an Index

Not every document needs an index. Adding an index to a two-page CV, for example, would be a bit over the top. It’s only an issue in larger documents, especially if they are going to be printed.

This includes everything from textbooks to technical manuals: essentially, anything where the reader might need to find specific information without skimming through dozens of pages first!

One like this, for example…

Publishing houses still use professional indexers to sort this out (like proofreading, it’s a job where a fresh pair of eyes can be invaluable). But if you’re self-publishing or preparing a large document for use at work, Microsoft Word’s indexing function can be a great timesaver.

Marking Entries

The first step in creating an index is marking terms you want to add. You could do this as you write the document, but it makes more sense to wait until after you’ve finished editing and proofreading.

To mark terms or phrases you want to include in the index, simply:

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  • Select the text you want to mark in the document
  • Go to References > Index on the main ribbon
  • Click ‘Mark Entry’ to open the ‘Mark Entry Index’ dialogue box
Marking entries.

This dialogue box then lets you edit your entry. Some important options here include:

  • Subentry (i.e. add a similar term to the same index entry)
  • Cross-reference (i.e. link this term to another entry in the index)
  • Page number format (i.e. how page numbers are presented in the index)
Index options.

Once you have finished here, simply click ‘Mark’ to mark the word as an index entry. If you click ‘Mark All’ you can mark every instance of the same word at once. However, it may be better to check the document manually, focusing on key pages, if it is a word that you’ve used a lot.

You then need do the same for every word or phrase you want to include in the index.

Adding an Index

Once all of your entries are marked, you’re ready to add the index. The good news is that this bit is less labour intensive than the marking bit! All you need to do is:

  • Place the cursor where you want to add an index (usually at the end of your document)
  • Go to References > Index on the main ribbon
  • Click ‘Insert Index’ to open the ‘Index’ dialogue box
  • Select any formatting options you require (the defaults are usually fine)
  • Click ‘OK’ to insert an index based on the term you’ve marked

An index will then magically appear in the place you selected! If you then change any of the marked terms and phrases, all you need to do is click ‘Update Index’ to make sure everything is still correct.

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