Create a live index in InDesign • Book Design Made Simple

It’s easy to create a live index for your book in InDesign, and there’s a major benefit to doing so: If you move any of your text, the index markers stay with the text and the index automatically updates!

In Book Design Made Simple, We explain how to create paragraph styles for indexes, how to import an index from Word, and how to typeset an index. Here, we’ll explain the simplest way to create a live index in InDesign.

Adding first-level live index entries

All indexes include first-level entries. These are the main entries placed in alphabetical order in the index. (Your index may or may not include second-level entries, and those are explained below.)

Learn how to create an index as you write or typeset in #InDesign. Clear, doable instructions for the great live index feature! Click To Tweet

To start, make sure you’re working in Normal view in InDesign by either selecting the Normal View button (at the top of your screen or at the bottom of your Toolbox) or by pressing W. Then make sure you can see hidden characters by selecting Type > Show Hidden Characters. That way you’ll be able to see the index markers you’re creating.

With your document open, select Window > Type & Tables > Index, to open your Index panel.

Opening the Index panel in InDesign.

Samuel Thayer’s book, Incredible Wild Ediblesis a great example to use for a live index as there are two levels of index entries.

Select the Reference button on your Index panel, and now you’re ready to add a first-level index entry. Select the text (in our example, we’ll select “Gooseberry”), then click the Create a New Index Entry icon at the bottom of the Index panel (circled below). This will open the New Page Reference dialog box with your selected text showing at the top left under Topic Levels. Choose Current Page from the Type drop-down menu.

Add a new index entry in InDesign.

Select Normal Mode from the circled icon at the top to show your index entries as you create them.

Index marker.

Index marker.

Click OK or hit Enter/Return to create a live first-level index entry. Voila! You’ll see an index marker just to the left of the text you selected, showing that the text has been added to the index entry.

When adding your index entries, you’ll find it quicker to use a keyboard shortcut rather than clicking the Create a New Index Entry icon at the bottom of the Index panel every time. Simply press Ctrl/Cmd+7 to get the New Page Reference dialog box with your selected text showing at the top.

Adding second-level live index entries

Second-level index entries are the indented entries that appear indented below first-level entries.

To create a second-level entry, start the same way you did for a first-level index entry: Select the text you want for your second-level entry, then either click the Create a New Index Entry icon on the Index panel or press Ctrl/Cmd+7 to open the New Page Reference dialog box. Your selected text will show in the top left box under Topic Levels.

To change this entry to a second-level entry, follow the three steps pictured below:

1. Click on the down arrow (circled below) to move the entry down one line.

Second level index entry.

2. Once the entry is on the second line, look in the lower box to find the first-level entry you want on the first line. Double-click that entry and it’ll appear on the first line.

3. Click OK or hit Enter/Return, and you’re done!

Example of a second-level index entry.

Note that the second-level entry (Lemonade) was capitalized because it was copied from the beginning of a sentence. To remove the capital L, simply select it and type a lowercase l. You can change any entry this way. For example, if an entry appears in all caps, you can select it here and retype it in lowercase.

Attaching a range of pages

Add a range of page numbers to live index entry.

For a range of pages, count the number of pages including the current page, and add that figure to the Number box.

So far we’ve explained how to add a single page number to a live index entry. However, if a subject is discussed over a range of pages, you’ll want to add that page range instead of a single page number to the entry.

To add a range of pages, follow the same steps as above to create your entry. Then, in the Type drop-down menu, instead of Current Page, select Next # of Pages, and enter a number of pages that includes the current page.

Checking your live index entries

Index panel showing page numbers.As you continue adding first- and second-level index entries, check the entries by keeping your Index panel handy and scrolling through the entries.

Click on the arrow to the left of an entry, and it’ll expand to show you which page(s) that entry appears on. And, if you happen to move any text containing an index entry, the index will automatically update to show the new page numbers.

Ensuring proper alphabetization

Let’s say you have an index entry that doesn’t alphebetize the way you’d prefer. For instance, one of the index entries in our example is a reference to Sam Thayer’s first book, The Forager’s Harvest. We’ll include the whole title in the index entry, of course, but want it listed under F for Forager’s, not T for The.

To correct the alphabetization, first add the entry as you normally would. Then, in the Sort By box to the right, type the entry starting with the letter you want it alphabetized under. In our example below, we typed “Forager’s Harvest, The” so that the book title will be listed under F. However, note that when you generate the index, this entry will still show as it appears in the left box (The Forager’s Harvest ), not the way you typed it in the Sort By box, and it will appear under F.

Optimizing alphabetization in index entry.

This entry will appear as “The Forager’s Harvest” in the index, but it will now appear under F rather than T. (See the updated Index panel in the next section.)

The example shown here is for a first-level entry; If you need to change a second-level entry, you’ll add the amended entry to the box to the right of the second entry, and so on.

Generating your live index in InDesign

Generate a live index in InDesign.

Click the Generate Index icon to generate your live index.

You can generate your live index anytime you want. We prefer to generate the index after adding just a few entries, and then regenerating it regularly to make sure all our entries are displaying as expected.

To generate your index, click the Generate Index icon at the bottom of your Index panel (see right). Then you’ll see the Generate Index dialog box (see below). All the settings you see will be InDesign’s default settings.

Note that there are several paragraph styles listed in the Generate Index dialog box: Index Title, Index Level 1, Index Section Head, and so on. InDesign will create new paragraph styles for every type of entry you’ve used.

InDesign's Generate Index dialog box with default settings.

Note that the box for Include Index Section Headings is checked by default. These are the alphabet letter headings that you’ll see included in your live index.

Default paragraph styles for the index.

Default index paragraph styles.

Click OK and your cursor will be loaded with text. Click anywhere on a new page, and your live index will flow in a text frame on the page. The new paragraph styles will all be based on your Basic Paragraph style, and will probably need some adjustments. Here’s what our index looks like so far:

How the index looks so far.

The paragraph styles need tweaking, but otherwise, here is the start of our index!

Now is the time to check whether any entries need correcting. Make any needed corrections in the Index panel by simply double-clicking the entry and making the change. In our index, we noticed that the entry “Gooseberry” shouldn’t be capitalized, and we’ll fix it by double-clicking the entry, changing the G to g, and clicking OK.

Updating your live index

Update your live index regularly to make sure any corrections or new entries are displayed properly.

Replace existing index box checked.To update your index, simply click the Generate Index icon on your Index panel again, and you’ll see the same Generate Index dialog box you got the first time (see above), with one major exception: This time the Replace Existing Index box will be checked.

Click OK to update your index with the latest corrections and/or additions. So easy, right?

Live index is a great feature!

The beauty of a live index is that it allows you to make any changes down the road—add, delete, rewrite, or rearrange paragraphs or even whole chapters—and not give the index a second thought. All the page numbers will be reassigned accordingly.

Contemplating a redesign for your second edition? No problem! All the index paragraph styles can be updated to match the new design.

And, if you’re writing in InDesign, add your index entries as you go. Seriously, there’s no bad here!

Book Design Made Simple. You can do it yourself.

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