Index Quality: "Zombie" Machine Indices and Ctl-F Searches vs. Human-Created Indices

        University press books' indices are compiled by human beings who have read the book with understanding, rather than by computer programs which, at best, can only look for instances of nouns (e.g., "apples," or "Hawthorne, Sophia").  Human-produced indices can connect ideas expressed in differing nouns and verbs, "text strings" that machines cannot connect (e.g., Children: Una Hawthorne; Julian Hawthorne; education; careers as writers).  Because your papers' theses often seek to explore some abstract concept related to the basic topic, human-created book indices are one of the most powerful research tools you have apart from Library of Congress Subject headings.

        By contrast, a computerized index processor simply sifts the text for nouns, stacks them up alphabetically with page numbers attached, and locates them at the end of the document.  In addition to being far less intellectually helpful than a human-created index, the computer "zombie" does not have the judgment to distinguish between different uses of the same "text string" (e.g., Paris Hilton and Paris, France). This can produce idiotic errors that wastes the researcher's time.  Nevertheless, because human indexers are expensive and computers are cheap, low-end publishers often try to get by with the latter.  To determine whether your book's publisher was quality-conscious enough to do the right thing, look at the topics in the index.  If abstract ideas get nice dense sets of "hits," you are looking at a higher quality publication than one which gives you only lists of nouns and page numbers.

        Lowest on the scale of search quality, the Control-F search of a web page produces a series of hits on any combination of the characters you enter.  If you are trying to find "child" and type in those characters, the "zombie" computer will turn up "child," but it also will turn up "children," "Rothschild," "childbirth," "childish," and "childlike."  Once again, using the computer to "index" a web page will waste the researcher's time and reduce her/his attention span by returning false hits.