top of page
Stack of Magazines

Proofreading and Indexing

These services are in the same category because both traditionally occur after editing and final layout in Word or typesetting in InDesign, when the text is as good as it can possibly be, and the design specification has been imposed. Errors can be inadvertently made during typesetting, so the checks are normally carried out on final print-ready pages, on hard copies (printouts) or on PDFs on screen. I also proofread web pages, online resources and Kindle documents, but some materials can be tricky, requiring a bespoke strategy. Indexes must be made on the final paginated documents, and must be proof-read after typesetting.


Proofreading is a final review of the content before it goes live. It is the very last chance to catch any textual or structural errors, some of which can occur during typesetting. It is not the same as editing, which involves improving the content. Authors often think they are submitting proofs for proofreading, rather than a manuscript for editing. The CIEP provides useful guidelines for authors that point out the key differences 

between the services. During my long career as a freelance, I have never received a manuscript that could be dealt with by proofreading alone; they always need some level of editing.

What does proofreading involve?

Proofreading is far quicker than editing. It involves systematic checks for anything that doesn’t follow publishing convention or a specified style-guide. The process catches anomalies that have been:

  • missed during the editing process (especially when author feedback is incorporated) 

  • introduced during the typesetting process, such as widows, orphans, bad line breaks, hyphenation and justification, incorrect heading styles or running heads, different page lengths, unintentionally blank pages, and misplaced illustrations.

Publishers often require another type of proofreading, whereby different versions of typeset proofs are compared with each other, word by word, to make sure the typesetter has correctly made the changes asked for by the proofreader or authors.

How do I mark-up different types of proofs?

For publisher clients, I annotate physical proof pages or on-screen PDFs with the industry-standard BSI symbols - the fundamental tools of the trade.  However, most authors and business clients aren’t familiar with these symbols, and most supply electronic typescripts rather than printed pages. For them, I provide specific guidance on the way I have handled their text, using the most appropriate mix of highlights, tracked changes, embedded comments and marginal comments, depending on the type of file (e.g. Word, PDF or InDesign). I can also convert PDFs to Word documents. Web pages usually require different strategies, sometimes  relying on screen shots and printouts, or accessing the website source platform. These strategies are always discussed with the client before starting the job.

Quality throughout the service range

Note that all the activities of proofing are built into my other services, for example, during editing, typesetting or indexing, but a separate proofread before going to publication is always a good idea. This is because editors (like authors) often become too familiar with the content and can develop blind-spots.


For this reason, I only proofread texts that I have edited after leaving a suitable gap. However, if the schedule is tight, I have reliable proofreaders in my team to take over.


I was taught to proofread  and edit paper page proofs using BSI symbols at London's Publishing Training Centre (PYC) and on the job as a Desk Editor at Taylor & Francis, one of the most respected academic publishing houses around.

I was originally trained to create electronic indexes wbyith ISI Thompson on Elsevier's Embase drugs database, and learned to create back-of-the-book indexes with the Society of Indexers.

Please check out my  credentials, qualifications, and experience twhich show what it takes to earn the status of an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Proofreaders and Editors (CIEP).  You can also see some of my client/author feedback here.

Screenshot 2023-09-13 094512.jpg

BSI proofreading and editing standard symbols, now largely superceded by alternative on-screen editing techniques, although there are digital versions for marking up PDFs.

Indexing involves categorising and ordering information that is buried within a text into a single alphabetical list at the back of a printed book (the most common type), making that information quickly accessible to readers. Most indexes of nonfiction texts must cater to readers coming to the text from a variety of angles and backgrounds.

Who should compile the index?

Most indexers require an in-depth understanding of the subject matter, so who better to index a book than the author? However, authors are unlikely to know enough about indexing, or have the type of software that makes the job easier. Which means it can be time-consuming and far from pleasurable. But if your Editor is also a trained indexer, they already know your material inside out and will perform the task brilliantly. This is why I always offer to create the indexes of books that I have edited. 

What does indexing involve?

In the past, indexers laboriously wrote down every entry and page number on an increasingly unmanageable stack of index cards. Today there is specialist spreadsheet-like software that automatically alphabetises entries and allows easy sorting and collation of the entries, as well as carrying out a range of error checks. I have been using Sky Index Professional software for around 20 years to compile high-quality indexes.

The key thing about making a proper index is that you need a person to do it. You need real intellectual input. Word-processing software can generate a list of key words (a concordance), but it will be unnecessarily long and unwieldy in the absence of thoughtful analysis to make important decisions. The indexer must:

  • consider whether all occurrences of each word or term are equally relevant or significant

  • identify families of concepts that those words and terms relate to or belong to

  • apply specific conventions of indexing best practice (e.g.maximum page numbers per entry, punctuation, subheading levels, indentation) 

  • reclassify growing lists of entries into more specific concepts, while 'chunking' others up

  • link information thematically using accurate ‘see’ and ‘see also’ cross-references (especially when synonyms have been used for the same concept).

As with editing, there is a big-picture and a small-picture aspect to indexing, whereby words, terms and concepts on each page are also analysed in the context of the whole chapter and the overall aims of the book. Also, as with editing, I anticipate the needs of readers so that I can create the best entry points into the body of the text.

What sort of documents need an index?

Indexes are essential for non-fiction books, but they can be useful in anthologies, biographies and poetry books, and as a creative device in novels (Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut has a very clever one). Most of my indexing work is the back-of-the-book kind, comprising alphabetical lists of terms and concepts, dates and names, and the content of illustrations. Complex technical texts (of which I have done many) can be very challenging, requiring highly specialist subject knowledge, and get-arounds that only come with experience.

I also produce indexes for magazines, journals, databases, websites, archived materials and collections (e.g. of vinyl records), and I use the same skills for selecting terms for metadata, glossaries and keywords, and assigning standard subject categories to books (e.g. BIC codes).

How and when is indexing carried out?

Indexes can only be compiled from the final perfect version of a document, when no further proof checks can affect the layout and pagination. Thus, it happens after the body of the text has been proofread, when the page numbers are set in stone. The paper (or on-screen) document is read page by page, while the chosen terms and concepts are entered into the indexing software, which is then extracted as a plain text file. The completed index file is then flowed into the final text document, laid out in columns, together with running heads and page numbers. This is usually the first time an author sees the index. One of my authors said, “Aah! Now I know what my book is about!”.

Proofreading the index

Although the indexing software makes mechanical checks for errors like duplicate entries and blind cross-references, the index still needs to be proofread in its own right, especially because several issues can arise during the typesetting process.

Who pays for indexing?

Almost always, it’s the author. Even with traditional publishing companies that offer an indexing service, this is usually the case - the cost being deducted from the advance against royalties. Many traditional publishers ask the author to compile the index themself, or to pay a freelance to do it for them. 

Do I do anything else relevant to indexing?

A couple of things, both of which are very useful:

  • When I edit a book that I will also be indexing (especially multi-author works), there may be different terms relating to the same concept; the terminology can be adjusted to make it consistent throughout, thus more straightforward for readers and for indexing.

  • When I index material that someone else has edited or proofread, I often spot typos, thus adding another layer of quality.


bottom of page