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I'd suggest that you might not want to edit your existing index. You may want to create additional index entries, then maybe build duplicate indexes.
Remember that when you generate an index, it's a snapshot in time. Indexes are not dynamic within InDesign. I have a series of catalogs I produce with similar indexing issues, and I do it like so:
1) Make all my entries -- first highlighting the part number, then pressing the keyboard shortcut Command+7 (for Mac) or Ctrl+7 (for Windows systems). This opens the New Page Reference dialog box, and the highlighted box should fill the top (1) Topic Levels: edit box. Click the OK button to make the index entry. Then highlight the product name and repeat the process. If the product name starts with a number, edit the index entry by spelling out the leading number (Eight, Three-Quarters, etc.). This is important.
This gives you two index entries -- one for the part number, the other for the product name.
2) Create the index. Open the Index panel and select the Generate Index... flyaway menu command. Format your index the way you want, then click the OK button. This creates a text file which contains all your index entries, starting with the Symbols section, then alphabetically A-Z. So if you want to do it in one pass, your index first lists all the part numbers, then the product name -- unless a product name begins with a number! Then you're going to have product names mixed in with the part numbers. You don't want that.
If you can live with the existing sequence, just edit the Symbols Section Heading to say Part Number, or do as I do and delete the section heading entirely, then make a separate header that says "Index by Part Number." Lay out the part number index, then create a new page to start laying out the A-Z sections. I give that a separate header that says "Index by Product Name."
If the boss wants the index flopped -- product name first, then part numbers -- I'd create the index twice. For the first one, I'd use the text tool to delete the Symbols part, then start laying out the A-Z sections. Then I'd generate the index again and just layout the Symbols part, and use the text tool to delete the A-Z sections. In fact, I use the duplicate index workflow I just described to build my two-part index that starts with part numbers. Just to be safe.
Pro Tip: After you create the first index in your InDesign document, you'll have the option to replace the index when you create an updated one. In fact, by default, the Replace Existing Index check box will be selected after you've placed your first index. Don't do that. Because if you're re-running the index, it's because the product layouts have changed -- products moved/additions/removals in the catalog. Uncheck the Replace Existing Index check box, then manually replace the text in the old index with the copy in your new index. It's a couple of extra steps, but if you've changed from the previous index, it never lays out correctly if you automatically replace it with an updated index. That's because you're replacing an old snapshot in time with a new snapshot in current time. It may contain the same subjects, but you can count on a few new wrinkles to show up in the new one.
It's faster to remove, then replace. Trust me.
(No political allegories intended)
This is basically what I've been leaning towards from the get go. I'm generating an index as I go along right now, but after fiddling with it for a week, I'm close to getting it the way I want it. Also, using a book file for long documents index is a godsend. I've only just figured out multiple people can use the individual files in a book, as long as no one has the book file open. I did some tests, and they weren't promising. So now that I can have multiple people working on multiple files in the same book, indexing is going to go by quite a bit quicker.
Good. I'm glad to hear you've got a good plan of attack, and that what we've covered is working well for you..
Book documents are awesome. I concur with what you've discovered with one caveat: It's safe to pass out all the files within an InDesign book with one exception: The InDesign document which contains the style source information. Ostensibly, the style source document is the master/source file which drives paragraph/character styles in the document. But that style source document can also have impact on the Table of Contents/Index/Master Page functions of your InDesign book, so for safety's sake I'll make sure I have it open on my desktop whenever I'm performing book functions.
Can I ask one favor of you? If my response above has helped you, could you please mark this question as answered? That flags the moderators to archive this thread so it can benefit other users who have similar issues.
Hope your catalog production goes well,