By Danielle Sinon
Let’s talk about cookbooks. These days, picking up one of these tomes is more like flipping through a photographer’s portfolio than a simple collection of recipes. Even with the changes in book standards, there are couple things that always stay consistent: the table of contents and the index. Why does a book need a table of contents? What about an index? It couldn’t possibly need both lists, right? Aren’t they basically the same thing? We’ll walk you through the differences and importance of these lists so you’ll be able to keep track of what you’re looking at — and what you need to include in your own book.
Table of Contents
Getting right into it, a table of contents is a list located at the front of a book. It serves as a guide to the contents of the book that you are about to read, providing corresponding page numbers. A table of contents allows readers to locate the different sections within the book. Usually there are titles as well as subtitles depending on the number of sections.
Here’s an example to make it a little easier. Sticking with the cookbook theme, the book may be separated by season (e.g. summer) and under that title may be sections with specific meals or types of food (e.g. breakfast, or fruits and vegetables). With the help of page numbers, this list is your general guide to a book and will give you the ability to navigate quickly and simply.
Here is what the table of contents would look like:
You may be thinking, “Okay, so the index has all the same information but it’s just at the back of the book, right?” Not quite. An index is a more detailed list that has to be handcrafted, so is a lot more time-consuming to create. While the table of contents is organized chronologically, the index is sorted alphabetically. The table of contents only includes the chapter titles and section headers while the index includes all significant words, people, places, and phrases. This list is a guide for the reader to find a specific page rather than just a specific section.
You may be trying to find a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Checking in the index, you may find what you’re looking for under “chocolate” or “cookie” depending on how the book is organized. But by using this cheat sheet you’ll definitely save yourself some time spent flipping through the pages.
Here is what a section of this index could look like:
Why do we need them?
When casually flipping through a book, it may not seem like the table of contents or index is necessary, but this is definitely not the case! Including these two lists makes the information in a book more accessible to the reader and allows for a better user experience. You can’t use the Find function to search for a specific word or phrase in a physical book like you could do online or even on this blog post, so it is important to make it easy for the reader to find exactly what they were looking for when they decided to pick up your book!
We hope that this has helped you to understand the differences between a table of contents and an index, and why they are so important in the world of publishing. Whether you’re working on your own book or you just love reading, now you’ll know how to keep track of those lists!