Re: Documentation Estimates (long posting)

Subject: Re: Documentation Estimates (long posting)
From: Lori Lathrop <76620 -dot- 456 -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 1994 13:34:15 EST

In response to Richard Lippincott (INTERNET:rlippinc -at- BEV -dot- ETN -dot- COM), who
asks for opinions on the estimated rate of 5 pages per hour for indexing.
Rick says:

> Using an indexing function on FrameMaker, I can apparently work much
> faster than that. On the othe hand, certain parts of the task are
> "invisible", setting up the properly coded info in the text ahead
> of time. Has the estimated time for indexing gone down? Or is it
> just moved to a different location? What's the opinion on this?

You knew I'd take the bait, didn't you, Rick? :-) I can't resist an
opportunity to enlighten techwhirlers on the fine art of indexing :-)

Actually, the best answer I can give you is: It depends upon the
density of indexable terms and concepts in the text, the indexer's
expertise, and the indexing tools used.

First, a few words about tools.... I've done a lot of embedded indexing
with both IBM BookMaster as well as some embedded indexing with MS Word
and FrameMaker. Also, I've done a lot of indexing with Cindex (developed
by Indexing Research, 100 Allens Creek Road, Rochester, NY 14618 / Phone:
716-461-5530, Fax: 716-442-3924). There are pros and cons with each.

Embedded Indexes - Pros and Cons:
The biggest advantage of embedded indexing is that it's easy to "index
as you write" -- when the information is still fresh. Indexing as you
write can save you a lot of time at the end of the production cycle
(when you're in crunch mode, juggling a zillion other priorities) and,
therefore, indexing as you write generally results in a more comprehen-
sive index.

The biggest disadvantage of embedded indexing is that you are "indexing
blind" because you can't see the formatted index without generating a
printout; consequently, you're likely to have more inconsistencies in
terminology editing is more time consuming.

Cindex (and Other Stand-alone Software) -- Pros & Cons:
The biggest advantage of stand-alone software, such as Cindex, is that
it allows you to create an index faster than you can with embedded
indexing tags in DTP applications. For example, Cindex requires fewer
keystrokes because it allows users to easily set formatting preferences,
copy entries or a block of entries, swap levels (i.e., create a primary
entry from a subentry, or the other way around), search for terms or
page references, make global editing changes, and export the index to a
variety of formats (such as WP, RTF, Ventura, etc.) BTW, have you ever
looked at the index in your FrameMaker documentation? ... Well, guess
what? Frame did not use FrameMaker's indexing features to create the
index; instead, they contracted the services of a professional indexer,
then created macros to import the index into the document.

The biggest disadvantage of using stand-alone indexing software is that
there is no advantage to indexing as you write. If you revise the
document, you must manually change the page references in the index
file. Although Cindex makes that task fairly easy, it's still a time-
consuming activity.

Indexing Expertise:
One of my pet peeves is that most technical writers, even those who
graduate from tech comm degree programs, have not had any formal
training in the art of indexing. Consequently, most writers learn
indexing "by the seat of their pants." If they're lucky, they may
have some corporate style guidelines to help them out ... but many
don't even have that much to go on when they create their first index.
BTW, I'd like to hear from students and professors in tech comm degree
programs; please tell me whether or not you've had any formal training
in indexing.
Of course, the more experience you have as an indexer, the faster you
will be able to develop an index. Another factor is your familiarity
with the indexing features of the DTP application you're using or the
learning curve in learning to use stand-alone indexing software.

Density of Indexable Terms and Concepts:
This is really the most important factor. For example, indexes for
most computer documentation range from 5-10% of the text. That's roughly
equivalent to a minimum of one double-column page of index for every
20 pages of text. My rate for indexing computer documentation is usually
8-10 pages per hour. However, that rate does *not* include my editing
time; editing usually requires 25-30% of my time.

I experienced my slowest rate, 3-5 pages per hour, when I indexed some
agricultural science periodicals; some of the pages had as many as 40+
indexable terms. As another example, I can sometimes index 20-30 pages
per hour when I'm indexing general nonfiction books for publishing houses;
these books generally have 3-5 indexable terms or concepts per page.

Basically, I wouldn't argue too much with the figures Chuck Martin posted.
For the purpose of estimating, indexing 5 pages per hour seems fairly
reasonable, especially if the writer does not have a lot of indexing
experience and wants to create a comprehensive, quality index that will
enhance the product documentation.

I apologize for the length of this posting, but ... I love to talk about
indexing and, once I get started, it's hard for me to stop! I hope this
info is helpful to you. If I can answer any other questions, please let
me know.

Lori Lathrop ----------> INTERNET:76620 -dot- 456 -at- compuserve -dot- com
Lathrop Media Services
P.O. Box 808
Georgetown, CO 80444
(Author of _An Indexer's Guide to the Internet_, recently published by
The American Society of Indexers, P.O. Box 386, Port Aransas, TX 78373)

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