Legal Indexing and Legal Indexes
‘An index and a bibliography have been integral components of scholarly monographs,…This is where they tend to start reading a new book – from the back…’ (Agata Mrva-Montoya)
According to Nancy Mulvaney an index is “a structured sequence—resulting from a thorough and complete analysis of text—of synthesized access points to all the information contained in the text.”1
When our search results are broader than what we want, it can come across
as noise and distract us.
the index isn’t just a list of entries, it is structured. In other words, the index shows relationships between various subjects, thus leading users to more specific or related topics that might meet their information needs more closely.
An index should lead users to relevant material, to significant content chunks that provide useful information, rather than to passing mentions of words.
Thus, indexes are not concordances—lists of every occurrence of every word in a text. This is primary reason why indexes are much more valuable in certain cases that searches. Search results are often overwhelming or even useless; the fact that a word or phrase is mentioned in the text does not mean that the subject is discussed in the text. And it is the discussion that provides information for the user.
Large indexes often provide alphabetical anchor links at the top of the index, which take users quickly to the portion of the index they need to use.
Through the use of multiple access points or “see” references, indexes help translate the vocabulary of the users to that of a text. A site index acts as an important complement to the site map or table of contents.
As an open indexing system, the index of the Encyclopedia selects terms from a previously created list of terms that exists separately from the text itself. These term lists are a list of selected terms (titles, topics, etc) and thesauri, which show relationships between terms (related terms, broader terms or narrower terms). This term list help the indexer of the Encyclopedia select the most appropriate term to describe the specific text being analyzed.
an index is preferable to a concordance. We also believe a real index is preferable to even the best keyword-based search engine, for the following reasons:
• All the entries are visible. Using a good index, you make discoveries: material related to what you’re looking for, terms you might not have thought to look under, and concepts the author and indexer considered important.
• Creating the index gives the author and indexer a chance to focus on the content, to see the document as a whole, to identify inconsistencies, and improve the content of the document.
• For most of us, the most familiar access method is the one that’s been around the longest: the kind of index at the back of a book.
• You can:
• •Use hierarchical relationships (looking at broader and narrower terms)
• •Use subheadings to explore aspects of a topic
• •Use related term relationships to get ideas of other places to look
• Indexes often provide a level of specificity intermediate between the table of contents and search results
In the BNA Usability Study [into use of legal books], index users had an 86 percent success rate while text searchers had only a 23 percent success rate. The study included both single answer and more complex research tasks.’
•They also found that use of indexes saved time.
Documents dealing with the law require special treatment. Practitioners such as barristers and solicitors often need both rapid and accurate access to specific subjects within primary legislation, whilst for the lay person unhindered access to popular subjects in legal commentaries is more important.
Legal documents requiring especially good finding aids. Legal indexes are often more strongly and obviously structured than other scholarly texts, with sectional breakdowns and an outline format.
Legal texts often require deeply structured, complex indexes.
Code section number entries are indexed all together alphabetically under “Section” and then numerically:
Code Section 401(k) plans
Code Section 403(b) annuities
Code Section 457 plans
Section 401(k) plans
Section 403(b) annuities
Section 457 plans
The Encyclopedia usually cross jurisdictions. A subchapter or an entry might discuss both the federal requirements and the individual requirements of each state. For the index, it is extremely important to make clear what jurisdictions are being covered, in both the main headings and subheadings of an index keyword, and to do so consistently. For instance, if a topic appears in a section discussing some federal issues, there are subheading for the same topic in state sections.
The complexity of terminological relationships in an encyclopedic text usually demands deep structure, that is, more than one level of subheading.
Deep structure is also required simply by the amount of information presented in a large text. Discussions of a small topic may range over many pages and section numbers, requiring intensive breakdowns.
Users can’t simply scan all the subentries under a main topic to find what they want; they have to be able to locate it alphabetically or chronologically. Legal indexes seldom allow prepositions and “small words” as initial subheading terms, since they get in the way of quick scanning, and reverses are very common. The indexers spend a lot of time formulating strong subheadings and are likely to list the same topic multiple times under the same main heading to cover all the bases.