Every good tour requires a good guide. How often have you visited new sites, historical locations, monuments, and museums and listened in rapture to the wondrous tales narrated by a guide? Most places that record history appoints a knowledgeable person who has a flair for storytelling, responsible for recounting the events of the past to the eager crowds. They have to be enchanting and organized in the way they retell history so that it is accurate and interesting. To also ensure that the stories are believable, the details must be emphasized and precise, leaving no stone unturned. The throngs bank on these guides to empower them with knowledge. The management of the historical place also depends on them for the same reason.
Such people are also responsible for keeping the audience together and on the right path. They keep distractions at bay like the maintenance guy repairing the spotlight or the irritable kid who won’t stop tugging on his mom’s purse or the little lady who keeps sneezing. The guide would probably even ask the lady to put on her mask. Regardless of the various distractions, the prime directive of the guide is to walk you through the exhibit that showcases either history or wildlife or architecture that holds mysteries and adventures and pure delight. They are the map of your voyage of curiosity. If your voyage were a book, the guide would be your table of contents. Or would they be an index?
Table of Contents vs. Index
Any book one reads most definitely has a section that guides the reader through the story by providing necessary information and location for the same. A table of contents lists the chapters and pages while an index explains the references of certain information in the chapters. Let us venture into the other differences in the terms.
Differences Between Table of Contents and Index in a Tabular Form
|TABLE OF CONTENTS
|A table of contents is a list of all the chapters that are to follow in a book in their order of appearance with the corresponding page numbers.
|An index is a list of important words that are referenced in the book along with additional information about them.
|A table of contents is always at the beginning of the book or document. It appears right after the cover and the title page.
|An index is always at the end of the book or document.
|A book or a document must have more than ten pages to require a table of contents.
|Any document can have an index.
|Arrangement of contents
|The contents in a table of contents are arranged according to their appearance in the book.
|The contents in an index are arranged in alphabetical order.
|As a profession
|There are no professional creators for a table of contents.
|There are professional indexers.
|A table of contents offers a broad category for the perusal of the reader.
|An index is more specific and addresses specific requirements of the reader more quickly.
|‘Contents’ is derived from the Latin word ‘contentum’, which means ‘to hold together or assimilate’. It originated in the late 15th century.
|‘Index’ is derived from Latin ‘index nominum’, which means ‘the alphabetical list of the contents in a book with directions to find them’. It originated in the late 16th century.
What is a Table of Contents?
A table of contents is a list at the beginning of most books or documents that enlist the following chapters with their corresponding page numbers. It is quite like an overview or a road map of the whole book. It gives an idea about what to expect in the book or document. With the addition of page numbers, the reader can easily navigate through the entire book.
The word ‘content’ is derived from the Latin word, ‘contentum’ means to hold together or assimilate quite demonstrating the function of a table of contents. ‘Table of contents’ first appeared in the late 15th century in Latin literature.
Since the table of contents is organized by page, it is important to organize the information in an orderly fashion. This offers more structure to the content present in the book or document. Any document of more than ten pages must have a table of contents.
Most readers expect to see a table of contents in any book they choose to read or purchase since it offers them an insight into the book in toto. It is straightforward and standard for a book or a document to have a table of contents.
A table of contents is easy to create. It contains the title or the heading and the page number. For this reason, the chapters of the book must be appropriately divided and given the appropriate headings. It could also include descriptions of the headers. With books that have multiple authors, the names of the authors are also listed in the table of contents.
The table of contents most likely takes up 1-2 pages of the book and the pages that appear before the table of contents like the cover page or the copyright notices are not listed in the table. There are also no professional creators of a table of contents but online, there are sites available where one can avail of such a service.
What is an Index?
An index is also a list but unlike a table of contents, it appears at the end. After all the chapters and information of the book, the index is at the very end of the book containing information about the words in the book. These words work as locators for information present in the book.
The ‘index’ first appeared in the late 16th century, a whole century after the appearance of the ‘table of contents’. The word ‘index’ is also derived from Latin; from ‘index nominum’, which translates to ‘the alphabetical list of contents with directions to find them’.
As already mentioned, the order of arrangement of the items on the list is in alphabetical order and since it lists important words present in the document, the index can expand over multiple pages. There can be indexes of authors, articles or references.
A good index will include 2-3 entries per topic or word and direct the reader to where they can find them by providing the corresponding page number. Every significant topic must be indexed to enable the reader to find what they are looking for easily.
An index can further help organize the content of the book by providing additional details about the information. For example, in a book about history, the index could contain the prominent events, related terms, significant dates etc. An index also helps the reader quickly reach the content they desire. For example, in a cookbook, if the reader is looking for a particular dessert say, ‘Baklava’, the reader can simply go to the index, and find the word and the corresponding page number. In comparison with a table of contents, the reader would have to find the heading ‘desserts’ and then look for ‘Baklava’.
Adding an index can help the reader save a lot of time and energy. Consider the cookbook example, if the reader were in the mood to make a dessert and there was no index present, they would spend a long time scouring through the pages for the recipe of their desired dessert. With an index, if the reader were looking for ‘milkshake’, they would simply have to search for the letter M in the index and find the word and page number instead of worrying about looking for ‘milkshake’ in the table of contents under ‘beverages’ or ‘desserts’.
Since an index contains more entries than a table of contents, it is more intricate to create an index. But many software programs can help solve this problem. Also, there are many professional indexers. They provide the service of indexing the content be it in the field of art, business or science. There are different kinds of specializations as well like web indexing, indexing of newspapers, scholarly book indexing etc.
Main Differences Between Table of Contents and Index in Points
Following are the main differences between a table of contents and an index:
- A table of contents is a list of chapters or units of a book or a document with their corresponding page numbers. An index is a list of words that are referenced through the book with information about them and their corresponding page numbers.
- A table of contents appears at the beginning of the book right following the cover page and the title page. An index, in contrast, appears at the end of the book to not disrupt the flow of the reader but should the reader wish to learn more, they can skip to the index and read the additional information.
- The word ‘contents’ is derived from the Latin word ‘contentum’ which means ‘to hold or assimilate’ while the word ‘index’ is derived from the Latin word ‘index nominum’ which means ‘the alphabetical order of contents in a book and the directions to find them.’
- The ‘table of contents’ appeared in the late 15th century while the ‘index’ appeared later than that in the late 16th century.
- The order of arrangement of contents is according to the order of their appearance in the table of contents whereas, in an index, the contents are arranged in alphabetical order.
- A book or a document having more than 10 pages must require a table of contents while any document can have an index.
- A table of contents offers broad categories under which specificities can be looked for by the reader while an index offers the specific word that the reader is looking for and the directions of where to find the pertaining information.
- A table of contents does not have a professional creator whereas there are many professional indexers.
A table of contents is a lot different from an index. It is present at the start of the book and helps the reader browse the content with ease. It also provides information about what the reader can expect in the book with the titles and headers. The contents in the table of contents are arranged as per their order of appearance with their corresponding page numbers. This also offers a broad depiction of the content of the book. A table of contents takes up 1-2 pages at most and is quite necessary for any document of more than 10 pages. Since it mostly contains only titles, it is rather easy to create.
An index, on the other hand, appears at the very end of the book. It is also a list but this list can last for multiple pages. It contains important words and terms that are referenced in the book and these words are all arranged in alphabetical order for ease of perusal for the reader. With an index, the reader can save time by quickly looking for the word they require information about and finding the corresponding page number where they can find it. Since it contains more information than a table of contents, the creation of an index is much more complex. However, some professional indexers offer such a service. And if not them, one can always use, on a computer, any of the software programs created for indexing.
Thus, though different, the table of contents and the index both serve as guides for the reader. And like a professional guide, they are also proficient at providing insight and leading the reader to more information. The importance of a table of contents or an index cannot be stressed enough since they provide the reader with the comfort of reaching the destination hassle-free and with speed. Isn’t that the dream anyway? A table of contents or an index could help the eager learners with that. To gain knowledge at the speed of light and spread the beacon so it can shine bright and inspire others.