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I use Latex for writing articles/papers/longer documents. Most of these documents are scientific in nature, and therefore it is often useful to add an index of the most important terms at the end of the document.

However, I find it difficult to focus on writing when I constantly have to be aware of the terms I must index, using the Latex \index command. Alternatively, it might be more useful to leave the indexing to after the writing process is complete, but in this case I leave myself with a lot more work re-reading the entire document again.

Which method for indexing is the most efficient, or is there another one I javen't considered yet?

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I've done it both ways, and have found that a hybrid approach ends up working best.

Doing it at the end means you can focus just on indexing (not writing). You're more likely to be consistent in choice of terms, avoiding unintended synonyms where some entries are under term A and some are under term B but they should be together. If you do your own indexing, though, then you're doing this with material you've already read several times, so (in my experience) you're more likely to miss things because you end up skimming even if you didn't mean to. If your team has other writers, you can mitigate this by doing each others' indexing.

Doing it as you go means you can note at the time you introduce or heavily use a concept that it needs to go into the index. If you send out drafts for review before you're finished, you can get early feedback on these decisions and maybe even some crowd-sourced suggestions. You have less work to do at the end, when you might be feeling deadline pressure.

I've found that building up the beginnings of an index while writing increases the chances that important entries will happen, but doing it as you go can lead to "drift" over time -- you started indexing all references to X but over time decided there were too many and you should prune, or you changed you mind about terminology, or you just weren't thinking about indexing last Tuesday and that chapter is sparse. If you index as you go then you should also do a pass at the end to catch what you missed and clean up the problems you introduced along the way.

For me, the hybrid approach works better than either doing it all as I go or saving it all until the end. I once worked on a team where we had somebody with specialized background in indexing (I think a library-sciences degree?); we had that person do most of our indexing because of that, which pushed us to post-processing, but even so we found ourselves making notes like "this place is really important" along the way, as input to that process. \index sure seems like an easier way to provide that input than comments or external notes, doesn't it?

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  • Excellent answer: a mix of both! – Klangen Oct 17 '17 at 8:42
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This is really a matter for personal preference. There's no provably right answer.

Personally, for my books, I didn't worry about the index until about the 4th draft. When I was basically happy with the text, then I stated thinking about terms that might be worth indexing. I'd think of a word I wanted to index, then do text searches on that word and add the index reference. (I'm using MS Word and not Latex, but the principle is the same.) Then I browsed through fairly quickly looking for other words that might be worth indexing.

"a lot more work re-reading" By the time your book/article/whatever is done, you should have read and re-read it many, many times. Maybe some people can just throw text on paper and it's perfect the first time. For most of us, we have to go back over to clean up spelling and grammar errors. Then again to find continuity problems, places where the text is unclear, etc etc etc. One more pass looking for index terms should be a fairly trivial extra effort.

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