So last week’s task–one which pulled me away from finishing the edits on the History of the Medieval World (a job that seems to be stretching into infinity, but that’s another story)–was to proofread the index for the upcoming edition of The Well-Trained Mind.

Proofreading an index is a weird job. You’re looking not so much for typos, as for things that aren’t there–topics that SHOULD have been indexed but haven’t been. If you haven’t been trained to index, you’re sort of flying blind.

I haven’t been trained to index, but I’ve done this long enough to have some idea of what I want to see–particularly for a book like The Well-Trained Mind, which I’ve been answering questions about for nearly a decade. So I buckled down and tried to do a really thorough job on the index. This meant reading page after page of stimulating text like…

earth science:
experiment kits for, 393, 405–7
in second-grade curriculum, 166–69, 180–83, 217, 220
sixth-grade study of, 385, 386, 392–93, 405–7, 460
teaching resource lists for, 180–83, 405–7
tenth-grade astronomy vs., 540n
East of the Sun and West of the Moon (Asbjrnsen), 355
Ecclesiastes, Book of, 709
Ecosystem Science Fair Projects (Walker & Wood), 544
entertainment vs., 200–201, 448
knowledge-focused approach vs. child-centered unschooling in, 624–25
passive reception vs. active engagement in, 448
see also classical education; home education
Education Week, 231
Educators Publishing Service, 36, 339, 483
Edwards, Betty, 432, 589
in history studies, 114, 116, 126–29, 282, 283
mythology of, 76, 348
eighth grade:
art and music study in, 438–39, 462
college preparations in, 698
curriculum summary for, 461–62
foreign language studies in, 418–21, 461, 569
formal logic studies in, 461
grammar work in, 341, 343, 364, 461
history study in, 277
math in, 258–59, 260, 261, 461, 527, 528–29, 531, 533, 534, 537
memorization work in, 364, 399
modern-era reading curriculum for, 343, 356–58, 378–81, 461–62
modern history studied in, 294–301, 326–34, 461
outline skills developed by, 273, 292, 295
physics studies in, 385, 386, 396–99, 410–13, 461
religion in, 461
teaching resource lists for, 262–67, 303–5, 364–67, 381–82, 422–25, 428–29, 440–47
vocabulary study in, 337, 363, 461
writing studies in, 360, 364, 388, 461
see also logic stage
Einstein, Albert, 547, 552, 603
Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution, 545
Electricity and Magnetism (Whalley), 173
Electricity and Magnetism Science Fair Projects (Gardner), 544
electronic teaching aids:
in grammar stage, 198–201
see also computers; television; videos
Elementary Greek: Koine for Beginners, 567
elementary school:
home-school portfolios of work in, 656, 657
see also grammar stage; logic stage; specific elementary grade levels
Elements of Chemistry, The (Lavoisier), 547
Elements of Geometry (Euclid), 546
Elements of Style, The (Strunk and White), 484, 612–13, 614
eleventh grade:
art and music in, 590, 593, 614
college preparations in, 698
composition instruction in, 484, 614
computer-programming elective in, 577, 580–81, 614
curriculum summary for, 614
debate activities in, 475
foreign languages in, 569, 614
grammar studies in, 482–83, 614
great-books studies in, 495–96, 512, 521–22, 614
history study in, 278
major writing project in, 466, 502, 598–601, 614, 701
math in, 259, 260, 526, 528–29, 531, 533, 535, 537, 614
PSAT and SAT testing in, 260, 528, 529–30, 673, 698
religion in, 614
research papers written in, 601–2
science education in, 542, 543, 547, 548, 549, 552, 557–58, 614
teaching resource lists for, 521–22, 557–58
transcript credits and, 660, 661, 662, 663
see also rhetoric stage
Eliot, T. S., 62, 358, 562, 564
Elizabeth I, Queen of England, 289

and so on. (You get the idea. Multiply by 86 pages.)

The more I worked on this particular index, the less happy I was with it. So I sent off my massive list of corrections to the editorial staff: page after page of remarks like, “Why are some subjects indexed ‘third grade,’ ‘seventh grade,” etc., while others are indexed ‘elementary’ and ‘middle’ and still others ‘grammar’ and ‘logic stage’? Why is there an entry for Japanese literature, but no other kind of literature? Why isn’t CLEP indexed along with the other college prep tests?” And so on. I also appended my opinion that the index, as a whole, was less than stellar.

Back comes an email from the editorial staff, who forwarded my corrections to the indexer: The indexer would like to point out that the index was based on the second edition’s index, and that I didn’t raise any of these concerns when THAT index was sent along to me for proofing. So my remark that the indexing was substandard should have been made five years ago.

How embarrassing.

I have absolutely no memory of proofing that index. Did I read it and like it the first time around? Why did I pass it last time and hate it this time? (Did I even get AROUND to reading it for the last edition? Surely I did….)

Anyway: No thorough job of proofreading goes unpunished. The editorial staff also pointed out to me that there was no time left to make the changes, so if I wanted to make them, I’d have to type them into the index myself.

So I did, red-faced. Ah, well; making a fool of yourself is good for the soul (I think).

Showing 11 comments
  • Carrie

    This may be the wrong thing to say at the moment but, in the year+ that I’ve had the 2nd edition, I’ve never even glanced at the index. The table of contents is enough for me.

  • K-Sue

    I appreciate a good index, but have never thought what a chore it must be to write one, and even more so, to edit one. Thank you!

  • Christine Guest

    Iit’s like peeking into an invisible universe to hear about the diplomacy of working with editors. I’ll bet they appreciate the vindication.

  • e

    I’d think that some of that indexing skill was attained between editions 2 and 3 of the WTM….

    For me, a good index is worth its weight in gold. German books don’t really do the index thing, not like how we do it. And when it’s not there, it’s sorely missed.

  • Leigh

    Every time I successfully use the new index, I will rise up and call you blessed. 🙂

  • Julia S.

    I -very briefly- edited an index for a scholarly book. And being an index user appreciate the effort. Thank you!

  • Colleen in NS

    About the memory thing – I think it’s that you’re 40. I’ve spent the last year being 40 and I am starting to panic that I am not remembering things from the recent past (like 20 years) as well as I used to. I think you’ll get used to (or maybe not) being red-faced and having to retract things or just bear through them. And kudos to you for being able to admit it out here in public! LOL

    About the index – I like the index in WTM – it has been very helpful to me. Any improvements would be a bonus.

    I just started reading The Art of the Public Grovel – am really enjoying your objective look at all those situations!!!! Thank you!

  • A Circle of Quiet

    Wow. I promise I will use the index, give thanks for the index, see beauty and order in the index.

    Does that help?


  • Heather

    I remember when I thought writing was glamorous.

  • Meredith

    There’s a common gripe around Oxford that any book with a bad index is not a book worth buying. There are an awful lot of good books in the Bodleian with incredibly awful indexes, and I find myself on the side of the ‘good index = very important’ side. Let me applaud your efforts. And echo the comment that perhaps those of us in the index appreciation society are there because we are indeed over 40 and already have too much stuff stored in the grey matter… and need help!
    Bless your indexing industry!!!!
    (And fwiw, definitely worth hiring a professional indexer…!)

  • Rose

    With your schedule, when do you find time to sleep?

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