How to make a phone book (still under construction)

Some pundits claim that printed phone books are dead [link]. That might be true for 'big-city' phone books, but small, community based printed phone books, membership directories and company directories still serve a very useful purpose.

This web page will lead you through the process of creating a printed phone directory for your community, club, or business.

  1. 1) Decide what to include in each listing

    Listing contents

    A traditional phone book just contains names and phone numbers, but a directory can contain much more.

    Directories are made up of 'Listings.' The contents of a single Listing are usually a bit different for Organizational listings than for Residential Listings. Your decision about what to include in Listings will have an impact on printing costs. Here's a check-list of what you might decide to include:

    All Listings

    • Name
    • Phone number
    • Alternate numbers (fax, pager, etc.)
    • Postal Address
    • Email address(es)
    • Custom information (like 'department' in a hospital or 'teacher' in a school)

    Residental Listings

    • More than one person's name, also called 'family-style' listings.
    • Cell-phone number(s)
    • Per-person custom information (like 'birthday' or 'profession')

    Organizational Listings

    • Phone numbers for specific departments
    • Web URL
    • Hours of Operation
    • Advertizements

  2. 2) Choose what Sections to include

    Some directories contain only an alphabetical ('white pages') section, but others will contain several sections, each organized in a unique way. Having multiple Sections can make your directory more useful, but also increases printing costs.

    Here are some common sections that you might want in your directory, along with what makes them unique:

    • Alphabetical section (aka 'white pages')
      • all Listings
      • arranged alphabetically by last name (or organization name)
    • Classified section (aka 'yellow pages')
      • usually printed on yellow paper
      • only organizations or businesses
      • arranged alphabetically by Category
      • within each Category, arranged alphabetically by Organization Name
      • categories are not officially standardized, but some categories are more commonly used [link]
      • may contain advertisements
    • Government section
      • usually printed on blue paper
      • only Organizations
      • arranged from largest to smallest Category (e.g. Federal, Provincial, Local)
      • within each category, arranged alphabetically except that a Listing like 'General Information' might appear first in each category
    • Emergency section
      • usually the first Section
      • only Organizations
      • arranged alphabetically by Category except that an urgent category usually appears first
      • within each category, arrange alphabetically except that the most urgent Listings (Police, Fire, etc.) usually appear first
    • Other Categorical sections (e.g. By Department, By Custom Information)
      • arranged alphabetically by Category
      • within each category, arranged alphabetically by Last Name or Organization Name
    • By Address section
      • useful for emergency services (Fire, Ambulance, Police, etc.)
      • not usually distributed widely
      • arranged by Street Name
      • within each Street Name, arranged by street address

    It's possible that you might want other sections in your directory that are arranged in a unique way (e.g. By First Name) or which contain only a subset of the Listing information (e.g. Email Only).

  3. 3) Choose number of columns

    You can save on printing costs by formatting your directory in multiple columns. If you've decided to include email addresses or Web URLs in your directory then you should use a single column format because 'wrapping' email addresses and URLs across multiple lines will make them difficult to use.

  4. 4) Collect the information

    Use a form! Collecting Listing information by email (or on little scraps of paper) might seem easier at first, but using a form will help you gather information consistently. More importantly, having a stack of (alphabetized) forms will make it easier for you to keep your work organized. It's OK to collect information by email or even over the telephone... but get it written down on a standard form as quickly as possible.

  5. 5) Choose your software tools


    Don't use a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel seems like an obvious choice for organizing your directory listings, but it's almost always a poor choice. Spreadsheets have limited printing capabilities. If all you want is a list of names and phone numbers, then this is an viable option but for a directory with multi-line listings you will want more control.

    In general, better tools for creating a printed phone directory are the ones that separate the listing data from the Layout - spreadsheets don't do that.

    Word Processors

    Programs like Microsoft Word and Open Office can produce a decent looking directory. The best way to create a nice looking directory with a word processor is to use the 'mail merge' feature along with a template. Mail merge works by taking two documents and combining them to create a third. The template that you download or create yourself is merged with a document that contains the listing information for all your listings to produce the actual directory. You can add/edit/delete listings, then re-run the mail merge to create an updated directory.

    A word processor is a viable option if you have less than about 50 listings. Generating a classified section that contains ads is quite challenging using mail merge.

    Desktop publishing

    Applications like FrameMaker, InDesign or QuarkExpress offer more sophisticated layout options and (in some cases) a database to store your listings. The general process is the same as for word processing: enter the listings into the database, create (or download) a template document, and then merge the two to create your formatted directory. Desktop publishing applications give you complete control of what is included in your directory and how it looks, but they tend to be expensive and have a significant learning curve. Phone directories follow a number of rules and conventions that you'll have to learn and build into your directory templates - you'll need one template for each section in your directory. Where the desktop publishing option really shines is creating a classified section that contains ads.

    Because it is so flexible, you can create an advertising section that looks great and has minimal 'empty space' - but it will take many hours of pain-staking effort. is a unique web-based tool designed specifically for creating phone directories. Because it just makes phone books, it follows rules about how to handle every listing in many different layouts... so you don't have to think about them. It combines a powerful database, carefully designed listing templates and a commercial grade typesetting engine to produce results that look as good (or better) than you could achieve with a desktop publishing application... without expensive software or special computer knowledge. For classified advertising sections, produces great looking pages in seconds, but with a bit more 'empty space' than a careful desktop publishing appraoch.

    Here's a summary of the pros and cons for each appraoch:

    Spreadsheet Word Processor Desktop Publishing*
    Final Appearance Poor OK Good-Great Great
    Ease of Data Entry Medium Medium Easy Easy
    Computer Knowledge Needed Medium Medium-High High Low
    Consistency Gurarentees None None Maybe Lots
    Cost Free Free High Low
    Separate Data & Layout No Yes Maybe Yes
    Time to Finish Fast Medium Fast Fast
    Best for N Listings 0 50 Unlimited Unlimited
    *The DTP approach may require quite a bit of computer programming knowledge to achieve these result.

  6. 6) Enter the Listings

    OK, let's be honest, this is the boring part - it's detailed, repetitive data-entry. Here are some tips to help you get it done faster:

    • stay organized (you're using a form, right?), get a binder and a 3-hole punch, keep your forms in alphabetical order, mark each one as you enter it, mark it again once you have confirmed that it was typed in correctly
    • don't mix formatting and layout information with your listing data - a change to a listing should not mean you have to reformat each page, one-by-one
    • don't repeat yourself. If you have to type the same listing twice (because it appears in two sections), then you've doubled your chances of making a typo.
    • be consistent. Decide in advance if you are going to use 'Road' or 'Rd.' in street names. Always spell and capitalize street names, postal codes etc. the same way. The more consistent you are now, the easier it will be to use search-and-replace later to change things.
    • enter complete information. If most (but not all) of the listings in your directory have the same postal code or country, then you might be tempted to leave that information out when entering listings. A better strategy is to ALWAYS enter complete information. When you are ready to create your directory, make a backup of your complete listings and use search-and-replace to eliminate the irrelevant information (or 'hide' it in It's always easier to remove data than to enter it.

  7. 7) Double-check & get confirmation

    Typos happen. Worse yet, you may not be able to see the typos that you created. At the very least, you should make a second pass comparing your forms with the final document. If you can get someone else to do the proof-reading, that's even better. Best, of course, is to get the 'owner' of the listing to confirm that the listing is correct.
  8. Add visual clues for the directory user The whole point of a directory is to quickly find information. Page numbers are essential. "White pages" sections should have "running headers" (like 'Canterbury - Chesterbrook'). Categorical sections should have similar headings, using category names. If your directory has more than 2 sections, consider a Table of Contents. Use a different colour of paper for each section. Any categorical section that has more than (about) seven categories should have an index (for that section). Categories from other sections may be included in the Table of Contents.

  9. 8) Print

    Some formatting decisions can be delayed until it's time to print: Font Size smaller fonts save printing costs but are harder to read Spacing again, tight spacing will save printing costs but is harder to read Font serif fonts tend to look better in larger sizes with wider spacing sans-serif fonts are best for small or tightly spaced fonts Margins larger margins usually look better, smaller margins often DO NOT save printing costs If your directory has more than 25 pages or of you are printing more than 10 copies, then you should take it to a commercial printer or copy-centre. The results will look better, cost less and you'll have a lot fewer headaches. Copy-centres and commercial printers prefer you to send them a PDF file because then they can be sure that they produce exactly what you asked for. Making PDF files is easy for Mac users, a bit harder if you're using Windows (This web pages explains how. It's free, but not entirely easy). There are too many variables to cover all the possible printer issues you might have at home, but here are some links and tools that you might find helpful: Printing two-sided on a one-sided printer Print booklet format with Adobe Reader Easier Booklet printing for Mac OSX

  10. 9) Pay for it

    If your directory will be used by 100 or more people, then you can probably sell Ads for a classified advertizing section and this is by far the best way to pay for your directory. Depending on the number of directory users, you can sell business card sized ads for between $25 and $100. That adds up pretty fast. Of course, including a classified advertising section means (quite) a bit more work. Another option is to sell your directory to users. If your directory is really useful, then they won't mind. Or do BOTH - let the price of the directory cover the printing costs and the revenue from selling ads to pay for someone to actually do the work (with some left over).