Using Google Books To Replace A Nonexistent Book Index


Google Books as index
Enter Google Books as index. Side-by-side with the print edition, search Google Books for the term you’re interested in, and even if the book is only available in snippet view, you still get the page references for where that term is mentioned. And, even better than a back-of-the-book index, you can see the immediate context for the term, which will help you sort through all the references and see which ones are most relevant to your needs.


You can use Amazon's "Search inside the book" in the same way. I put both resources to good use working through my MA thesis.

Watch out for that full-text search. As wonderful as the context you see on Google books and in Amazon's "Search inside the book" feature, in both cases you're essentially redoing the work of the indexer.

Save yourself the time -- and those empty manholes of useless hits -- by searching in the index first. A professionally done index will have weeded out the empty hits and given you analysis reflecting that context, potentially saving you a lot time.

(Not to mention that the index includes not just terms but also concepts, people, places, events, and more.)

Pilar Wyman, [email protected]
Wyman Indexing (

Except when your search term is not used by the author. Say you're looking for information on vaccinations. The author only used the word immunizations. You won't find anything in a search. A professional indexer would have provided a see reference from vaccinations to immunizations to help you find the needed information. When you use search, it's up to you to think of the synonyms.

If your interest happens to be in a word that is used many times, like for instance "tweet" in a book on social media, you'll have to stop and check that immediate context many many times. The professional indexer would have left out the unimportant passing references and used subheadings to help you find the information on tweets you need much more quickly.

Tia Leschke
[email protected]

When a book is indexed by a person more information can be given to the reader by the index than by search, with less effort on the part of the reader.

The indexer will include concepts and related information even when not explicitly identified by the search term, so the information is more inclusive.

An index will direct you to synonyms that might be used by the author for the term that you are interested in.

An indexer will distinguish between homographs so that you are getting the relevant information only.

An indexer will distinguish between a passing mention and substantial information on a topic so you can easily find information.

Yes, search is good, but it cannot replace an index!

I recently read a book that was chock full of the innovative ideas of a particular organization. Was the word "innovation" used in the book? No. Was any synonym for innovation used in the book? No. Would a reader, without an index, armed with just a search engine, learn much about the innovative ideas of this organization? Not likely. Limiting a reader to a search engine is the equivalent of turning out the lights in the Smithsonian and leaving a museum goer with only a flashlight. Sure, they will see whatever appears in their flashlight beam, but they will miss SO much more.

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