EnglishGeneralLibrary Science

Need For Indexing and Abstracting

 The basic purpose of an index or an abstract is effective and efficient access to information, either through structured records, such as books and databases, or random stores of information, such as information found with Internet search engines.

Indexes are mind road maps to both known and unknown information. Sometimes we know that certain information exists out there and all we have to do is find out where. Often we don’t know if there is information or not, but we hope and search, looking for things “we don’t know we don’t know” (Mason 2006).

Indexes usually employ some type of semantic structure to distinguish among homographs and to link terms that are related in meaning (Salaba 2009, 24). Classification and indexing are related but are not the same thing. Classification is the act of organizing the details in a body of information according to some scheme, whereas indexing

is a finding device that connects a symbol for a topic (usually in the form of an image or a word) with whatever material is pertinent to that topic in a body of information stored in human memory, in print, or electronically. (Hanson 2004, 334)

In practice, classification and indexing often overlap; for example, indexes may combine indexing and classification.

Simply put, indexing produces entries in an index. This process involves the steps of analyzing the content of the information item, expressing the aboutness of the item in some abbreviated form, and indicating the location of the information. Along with abstracting, an index creates a surrogate of information items to facilitate access and use. When we make an index, we create an abbreviated and orderly image of the information item.

What is a good index or a good abstract? Both are tools that lead a user to the exact information that is needed with no hurdles, no false paths, and no irrelevant materials. The perfect index or abstract leads a user to totally pertinent information, seldom leads to trivial information, and never, ever leads to non-pertinent information. Of course such a perfect index is rarely cre-ated, but we strive for it every time we create an index.

When a user consults an index or an abstract, four things may happen and three of them are bad:

  • Information is not found, although it is there.
  • Information is found, although it is not what was expected.
  • Only a part of the information is found and the other part is missed.
  • The information is exactly what was needed and anticipated.

Indexers and abstractors try to minimize numbers one through three and to maximize number four. The indexer or abstractor should be acutely aware of all four potential outcomes.

Reference Book:

  • Cleveland, A. D., & Cleveland, D. B. (2013). Introduction to Indexing and Abstracting: Fourth Edition. ABC-CLIO.


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