Document Indexing

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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The key to a good electronic data management system--that is, easy information retrieval and efficient storage--is document indexing. Fine, you say, but exactly what is document indexing and do I care about it? Indexing, at its simplest, is a document's identification card. And, yes, you care because without it you won't be able to find the information you need.

You may know only a few details about the document or documents you hope to find. Maybe you need to find a funding proposal that included mention of Russia's 2000 presidential election, or an employee application that included mention of John Wiley scientific journals. Perhaps you need to find an archived photograph taken (you think) in 1937 in China, but aren't sure of the file format or name. Whatever it is, you want to be able to find it without knowing exactly where it is or everything about it.

How Document Indexing Works

Data searches can be limited to the files of a particular company department--human resources, for example, or fundraising, or research. They might be a physical search of a particular virtual hard drive or network partition. Searches can, if the application is robust enough, be generic as well. That is, a comprehensive engine will enable pinpoint searches across an entire network.

There are two ways to index, field based and full text. Field-based indexing means using a predefined set of measures to identify a file--name, rank, and serial number, for example. Typical document indexing criteria include the document name, file type, keywords, creation date, author, and status. Each document ID is thus, or can be, unique. Field names must be defined in the system master plan, and the values must be entered manually. Full-text indexing is generated by the computer, which creates a reverse alphabetical index of all words (except so-called "stop" words) in the document. Full-text searches are slower and require a more powerful application than field-based index searches.


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