Technical Writing – What’s the Difference Between the Index and the Table of Contents of a Document?

Question – what is the most important part of any technical manual?

Answer – would you believe it is the INDEX?

Why? Because I do not know of a single technical document user who would not immediately flip over to the Index and start searching for the words and terms that interest her the most.

And the sense of frustration and disappointment is very real when the user cannot find an Index at the back.

You need to provide an index and do it well if you are writing a manual over 30 or 40 pages long.

So how do you do it? What are the tricks of the trade?

First off, make sure you understand the important difference between a TOC (Table of Contents) and an Index. A TOC presents topics in the linear order in which the reader encounters them in the book. It’s a summary (and a useful one at that) of “what comes after which topic.”

An Index, on the other hand, is an ALPHABETICAL order of the IMPORTANT TERMS and CONCEPTS covered by the manual.

Thus without really understanding what the manual is about, you cannot write an Index because you would not be able to determine what is important from a reader’s (or end user’s) point of view.

That’s the reason why there are many professional indexers with their own organizations who create indexes as a lucrative full-time profession.

There are no professional TOC-creators, however, since it is a mechanical compilation that is usually accomplished at the click of a “Create TOC” button.

Source by Ugur Akinci

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