Cookbook indexing in Microsoft Word

I’ve just wrapped up a cookbook index, and while I was putting it together I found myself referring to notes I’d made a while ago for a friend who wanted to do cookbook indexing but didn’t want to invest in indexing software. When I worked in house, I’d prepared several cookbook indexes using only Microsoft Word and figured out, through trial and error, a reasonably efficient system. I figured I’d share my notes here for anyone interested. If you have a client with a specific house style, you might have to adjust the approach a bit.

What follows isn’t a guide for writing a good cookbook index. For that kind of information, I’d suggest “A Piece of Cake? Cookbook Indexing–Basic Guidelines and Resources” by Cynthia D. Bertelsen and Recipes into Type by Joan Whitman and Dolores Simon (relevant excerpt about indexes here). The notes below are just a step-by-step system you can follow to take advantage of Word’s functions when creating a cookbook index even though it ordinarily isn’t a great program to use for indexing.


Specialized indexing software is invaluable if you’re indexing most nonfiction titles, but a cookbook index has a straightforward structure that Word can easily accommodate.  The key is to keep the following in mind:

  • As tempting as it might be to sort as you go along—as indexing software allows you to do—don’t. You’ll have a much easier time if you alphabetize near the end.
  • The pages may not be final when you start data entry. Be prepared to adjust your locators if they move around.
  • Microsoft Word does not sort letter by letter; you may have to go through your index at the end and tweak the ordering of the entries.

1. Data entry

a) Start with the first recipe. Key in the recipe title verbatim (or copy and paste from a PDF), along with the page range. If the recipe has a photo, add that page number in italics.

Type the title in as it appears if it starts with a descriptor:

Deen’s Buttered Bacon Rolls, 108–9, 109

If the title starts with a main ingredient, state the main ingredient category first, followed by a comma. Keep everything on the same line for now.

chickpeas, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55

b) Copy the recipe title and locator (the highlighted part):

chickpeas, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55

c) Paste the recipe title and locator after keying in all other main ingredients and broad categories (like “beef,” “fish,” “salads,” “sauces,” etc.) on separate lines:

green onions, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55
quinoa, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55
salads, Chickpea, Green Onion, and Quinoa Salad, 54–55

d) If the recipe title starts with more than one descriptor, add entries for all possible inversions that readers might look up. Add a special mark like an asterisk, which indicates that this entry could be considered for cutting if space is tight:

Buttered Bacon Rolls, Deen’s, 108–9, 109*

e) Key in any subrecipe titles and page ranges, under an appropriate category if necessary. If the subrecipe title is generic, you may also have to add the full recipe title for clarity. Append a double-asterisk, indicating that this is a subrecipe:

dressing, Special Dressing, for Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55**

f) Index special ingredients or techniques only if they are defined/discussed in detail. If the book contains many definitions, you may want to indicate these by setting the locators in boldface. Again, append a double-asterisk:

cold smoking, 56, 56–59**

g) Repeat steps 1a to 1e for all recipes in the cookbook, proceeding in order. Apply 1f as needed, as you go along.

h) Add any logical cross-references.

beef. See also veal

i) Run a spell check on the index.

j) Save this file as index_v1.

k) Once the cookbook’s pages have been finalized, confirm locators, making any necessary adjustments. Save index_v1.

2. Structuring

a) Alphabetize: select all, go to Table → Sort… → Sort by paragraphs, ascending.

b) You’ll have lists like these:

beef, Chinese Five-Spice Beef Short Ribs
beef, Curried Beef and Vegetable Skewers
beef, Grilled Garam Masala Burgers
beef, Wine-Marinated Prime Rib Roast
beef. See also veal

Move the general category and any cross-references to the top, then replace the category in all other entries with a tab indent by selecting that segment of text and using Word’s Find and Replace function.

beef. See also veal
     Chinese Five-Spice Beef Short Ribs
     Curried Beef and Vegetable Skewers
     Grilled Garam Masala Burgers
     Wine-Marinated Prime Rib Roast

Go through the index and repeat this step for all categories that have two or more subentries.

c) For main ingredient categories that have only one recipe, just invert the recipe name to showcase that ingredient first:

quinoa, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55


Quinoa, Green Onion and Chickpea Salad, 54–55

d) Add line spaces after the end of each section that begins with the same letter. Add group headings “A,” “B,” etc. before each section only if there is enough room.

e) Add a headnote mentioning that photos are referenced in italics and definitions in boldface.

f) Save as index_v2.

3. Cutting to spec and finalizing the index

a) Save as index_v3.

b) If the index is too long, consider first eliminating whole categories that readers are unlikely to look up or that are redundant. For example, if the book itself has a section devoted to desserts, having a dessert category in the index is not needed.

c) If the index is still too long, consider combining some categories and adding cross-references. For example, if you have divided “fish” and “shellfish,” consider combining them under “seafood” and adding cross-references to the new category under both “fish” and “shellfish.” Doing so will allow you to cut duplicates of recipes that include both fish and shellfish.

d) If the index is still too long, consider cutting all subrecipes and special ingredients/techniques, which you’d marked off earlier with double-asterisks.

(If the index needs a lot of cutting and you’re confident you will need to cut all entries marked off with double-asterisks, you can use Word’s Replace function to get rid of all of them at once. If you’re comfortable with wildcard searches, place your cursor at the top of the document, then, in the Replace dialogue box, put [!^13]@\*\*^13 in the “Find what” field and nothing in the “Replace with” field. Make sure “Use wildcards” is checked. Clicking “Replace all” should get rid of any lines that end with a double-asterisk.)

e) If the index is still too long, evaluate for cutting or abridging only those entries that have an asterisk. (Never cut out or modify an entry that matches the recipe title exactly.) If it makes sense to cut the whole entry, do it. You could also cut part of the title if it refers to sauces and garnishes that aren’t a fundamental part of the dish.

f) Delete all the asterisks. (Using the Replace function, put * in the “Find what” field and nothing in the “Replace with” field.)

g) Edit the index as outlined in Chicago 16.133, in particular double-checking alphabetization, then save index_v3 and submit it.

Versioning system

  • Index_v1: This version makes it easier to update locators if pages—especially if spreads or larger groups of pages—are moved around.
  • Index_v2: Go back to this version if the publisher decides to add pages to allow more room for the index.
  • Index_v3: Your final submitted index.

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