It is important to alphabetize your index in a consistent manner. Otherwise, your readers may become confused or miss an important entry. There are two basic ways to alphabetize, or sort, an index: word by word; letter by letter.
If a document contains the information that a reader needs, but if the reader cannot find that information, then the document is useless. Worse than useless, it’s a hindrance. If I know that some information is not available, I won’t waste my time looking for it. However, if I think the information is available, and if I can’t find it after a period of fruitless searching, all I will have achieved is frustration.
Indexes are as important to your documentation as your documentation is to the product. Just as it would be difficult, if not impossible, for people to use your product without any documentation, it is equally difficult for people to use documentation without a good index.
The success of a technical document depends heavily on the index. The task of indexing a technical document often cannot begin until insufficient time remains to do a good job. However, for many users of the document, a good index is mandatory to its usability.
'See also' cross-references assist the user to quickly navigate to the right index term. The same principles that apply to 'See also' cross-references apply equally to hypertext linking. 'See also' cross-references are constructed using the following relationships: a broader term to a narrower term, e.g. 'mammals, See also whales'; sailing craft, See also hulls overlapping meaning between two terms, e.g. 'gold, See also money'
I recently started a new contract with a software company here in Toronto. One of the tasks assigned to me was to index a very large document. No, make that a very large document. It weighs in at 1,300+ pages. I kid you not. And while I’m not a great indexer (it would be a stretch to call me a good one), I can get the job done. But I’ve never tackled a document this size before.