Alphabetizing for indexes and bibliographies

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Alphabetizing is automatic, right? Just click a button and bam! Instant alpha sort. Well, not quite.

Software will give you a decent result, but it doesn’t handle spaces, punctuation, or numbers correctly, according to the two systems favored by CMS. You can certainly start by using the sort button, but then tweak it to these specifications. See the differences in the table below.

Letter-by-letter alphabetizing

Preferred by CMS for indexes, bibliographies, and anything that needs sorting in a book. Also used in dictionaries. Spaces are not counted. If in doubt, use this system. 16.59

Order: 1) word alone 2) word parenthesis 3) word comma 4) word numbers 5) word letters.
Ignore spaces and other punctuation.
Exception: An initial standing for a name comes before names starting with that letter. Lane, T. R. before Lane, Thomas. 16.63.

Word-by-word alphabetizing

Preferred in card catalogs. Some publishers prefer this system, so ask. Spaces are counted. 16.60

1) word alone 2) word parenthesis 3) word comma 4) word space.
Then, ignoring other punctuation, 5) word number 6) word letters.
Exception:
An initial standing for a name comes before names starting with that letter. Lane, T. R. before Lane, Thomas. 16.63.

Comparison: Letter by letter, word by word, and MS Word’s sort

*The word-by-word positions of Day 2 and Day2 are strange. But the rule is that spaces come before nonspaces, so this is where they would land. Is anyone else as bothered by this as I am? 😀

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Exception: first or middle initials

Initials in place of names come before names starting with that letter. 16.63 This rule is an exception to the entire letter-by-letter idea. I admit, this rule drives me crazy and seems unnecessary. The order is:

Reed, C.
Reed, C. R.
Reed, C. Ross
Reed, Carl
Reed, Carl R.
Reed, Carl Ross

Other examples:

Dunn, M. Fern
Dunn, Mark
Kelly, J. E.
Kelly, Janet
Kelly, Jennifer

Case in index

Case is not important for alphabetizing. 16.64

Capitalize or lowercase index entries? CMS prefers lowercase entries for words that aren’t proper names. 16.11. But some publishers prefer to capitalize all entries.

Punctuation and symbols in index

& and + Alphabetize & as if it was spelled out and. Same thing with + if it’s pronounced and.

Apostrophes. Ignore apostrophes. e.g., O’Malley or Ken’s Hardware. 16.74

Accented letters. Alphabetize as if they were unaccented (in English-language works). 16.67

Abbreviations and acronyms in index

St. and Saint, Dr. Pepper, NATO, etc.  Acronyms and abbreviations are alphabetized as listed in the index, with St. under st, Saint under sa, Dr. Pepper under dr, and NATO under na. Use cross-references if needed. 16.46, 16.64. (The choice of whether to spell out the abbreviation in the index entry is a different matter completely.) The only exception is with people’s names, where alphabetizing stops at an initial: see above.

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Numbers in index

Number at beginning of entry.

Alphabetize it under the spelled-out version. (Only if at beginning of entry.)

If there are many of these, you may place them in their own section at beginning of index before A. 16.65.

No guidance is offered on numbers with multiple pronunciations. Is 1/2 pronounced “half” or “one-half”? Is .5 pronounced “point five” or “half”? Is 1,500 pronounced “fifteen hundred” or “one thousand five hundred”? If you run into this situation, go with the way you’d think most people would pronounce it. Use cross-references if necessary.

Numbers within entry.

If entries are similar, alphabetize in numerical order.

| lot 19 | lot 52 |
| Reed, Ken, II | Reed, Ken, III |

No guidance is offered on:

• Nonsimilar terms. | CO2 | Co-57 | CO3000 Media | ?
• Differing numbers of digits. Would Co-57 come before CO3000 because 57 comes before 3000, or do you look at it digit by digit, like you do with letters, and put 3 before 5?
• Spelled out numbers that would be best sorted in number order. | Part One | Part Two | Part Three |
• Numbers best sorted by size instead of numerical value. | USB 500 MB | USB 1 GB |

If you run into these situations, use your best judgment and be consistent. In Indexing Books, Nancy Mulvany goes into some detail on this topic (p. 134–37) and suggests thinking about your reader and where he or she might look for such an entry. Use cross-references if needed.

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Initial The, A, An in index

For newspaper, magazine, and journal names, omit initial The, A, or An in an index. 16.49.

New York Times

For authored titles of works (books, movies, songs, articles, art, etc.) keep initial The, A, or An in an index, but invert it. 16.51.

Da Vinci Code, The

Names in index

Initials in place of names. See above.

Jr., Sr., III. It would be Rob Coeler Jr. but when inverted, it gets commas: Coeler, Rob, Jr. or Coeler, Rob, III.

Compound last names.
If hyphenated, alpha under first element: Camp-Howell, Susan.
If not hyphenated (Ann Smith Williams), it’s best to alpha under the last element: Williams, Ann Smith.

Particles (da, de, van). Index according to how they are known or the person’s preference. Rein, Peter von OR von Rein, Peter. Use cross-references if needed. Most American, Canadian, British, Australian, Italian, and Afrikaans names will include the particle with the last name. With Spanish, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Scandinavian names, the practice can vary. See Mulvany, Indexing Books, 169–71 for a more thorough discussion.

Non-English-language names may have their own rules. See 16.76–87, or Mulvany, Indexing Books, 171–77.

Names and cities mixed. If a person’s last name and a city name are the same, CMS 16 suggests you “use common sense” and distinguish them somehow. 16.62 I find this idea unnecessary, and Mulvany’s Indexing Books does not like it either (p. 123–24). But here is the gist:

| Houston, Amy | Houston, Texas | would be fine.

But if you added Houston, William, your people named Houston would be separated by a city named Houston. This is where CMS suggests you make the following alteration.

Instead of | Houston, Amy | Houston, Texas | Houston, William |
try | Houston (Texas) | Houston, Amy | Houston, William |

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Explanatory notes in index

Parenthetical descriptors. Think of your audience and where you think they would look in the index to find such a topic. It’s fine to add a parenthetical description if you think it will help the reader. 16.43

If only first name is known but it’s mentioned often: William (in Reed wagon train)

confusing terms 16.45: Power and Light (company); Power and Light (entertainment district)

more description needed: Kanesville (later Council Bluffs, Iowa); Elizabeth (queen)

pseudonyms 16.34

people with same name 16.35

when multiple family members appear in index and it might help to add mother, sister, etc. 16.35.

Introductory note in index. If you have a complicated situation in your index that might confuse readers, add an introductory explanation at the beginning.

Subentries in index

With subentries, disregard introductory prepositions, conjunctions, and articles for alphabetizing purposes. 16.68–70

Howell, Samuel: in Bolivia, 126–27; as governor, 123–25; trial of, 132–33; and wife, 130n2

Index entry samples for a run-in index

CMS says to only capitalize proper names in index entries, but some publishers prefer all entries to be capitalized. This is CMS format.

bison, 99–102, 136, 190–94

buffalo. See bison

church services. See under Sabbath.

illness, 74–75, 84; at sea, 45–46; from water, 70, 119, 142. See also names of specific diseases

livestock: health, 106–108; injuries, 87n3, 102 & n3

mail, 29, 83, 146n12. See also Pony Express

Omaha, Neb., 124–25, 127n

Pony Express, 136n4, 137, 191

Sabbath: activities, 39, 86; church services, 100–101, 115, 126n14; traveling on, 123–24

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Bibliography: additional alphabetization rules

ed. and trans.

Ignore ed. and trans., etc. for alphabetizing.

multiple authors

When a second author is alphabetized, use his or her last name. 14.62

Moore, Leah, and William Lang
Moore, Leah, and James Zimmer

repeated author

If same author, alphabetize by title. Ignore initial The, A, An. Two authors come after one author.

Reed, Carl. “Time for History.”
Reed, Carl, ed. The Time is Now.
Reed, Carl. Timeless.
Reed, Carl, and Leah Moore. Clocks
Reed, Carl, and Leah Moore. Clocks: Time for More.
Reed, Carl, and Dan Wilson. “Second Hand.”

3-em dashes for repeated author

You could use a 3-em dash instead with the second and third entries. Best to wait till final edit before instating these, to ensure accuracy. You can use it before ed., but not before a second author, unless both authors are repeated in the same order.

Reed, Carl. “Time for History.”
———, ed. The Time is Now.
———. Timeless.
Reed, Carl, and Leah Moore. Clocks.
———. Clocks: Time for More.
Reed, Carl, and Dan Wilson. “Second Hand.”

List the author name as shown in the publication, even if it causes the same author to be listed in multiple ways in your bibliography.

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Aren’t you overcomplicating this a bit?

When indexing a book, you probably won’t run into hundreds of odd situations, and you can make sound decisions based on the expected reader and scope of the book. But for alphabetizing, say, book titles, company names, or a reference book of terminology, you will need more guidance.

Mulvany’s Indexing Books goes into more detail than Chicago, and she suggests NISO-TR03 as a thorough and sensible alternate system. Its order is 1) spaces—and treat hyphen, dash, or slash as a space, 2) ignore these punctuation symbols: . , : ( [ { <  ‘ ” ! ?   3) other symbols 4) numbers 5) letters. The full PDF document for that system is available online here.

There are other systems as well, many of which you can find online. Some publishers even have their own systems.

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Source: Chicago Manual of Style 16 and Mulvany, Nancy, Indexing Books.

Disagree with anything you see here? Questions? Feel free to comment or contact me! I would love to perfect these guides. I’ve found that being “copyeditor perfect” is a little more difficult when I’m writing incomplete sentences and shorthand for these concise guides. I appreciate it!