Editing Tip: Choosing Effective Keywords
journals expand, identifying relevant studies in the literature is
becoming increasingly challenging. To facilitate online article
searches, most journals require authors to select 4-8 keywords (or
phrases) to accompany a manuscript. Keywords may also be used to match a
specific editor to a manuscript and to identify peer reviewers with
related research interests. To maximize your manuscript’s chances of a
well-matched review and readership, here are three considerations when
choosing key terms:
Your target journal’s instructions for authors. Guidelines for
the number and type of keywords may vary between journals. In certain
cases, the editors will even provide a list of preferred terms, and
clinical publications will often specifically request keywords drawn
from the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s collection of Medical Subject Headings
(MeSH). The use of MeSH terms ensures that a “common vocabulary” is
applied to index biomedical content, facilitating literature searches.
In other cases, a journal may specify particular keywords that should not be used, such as words already included in your manuscript’s title.
Your title, abstract, and main text. If your target journal
does not exclude the use of keywords that are also employed in the
title, you should seriously consider including this type of keyword. In
particular, key terms that are shared with your manuscript title and/or
abstract can help to increase the visibility of your study in article
searches due to the algorithm used by many search engines. Crafting an effective, representative title
is therefore critical. Additionally, search terms should accurately
reflect the content of your main text; avoid words used only once or
twice in the main text or not at all.
Your target audience. Your readers will likely search for
terms that are commonly used in your field and related areas. You should
thus avoid using esoteric terminology, such as an unusual abbreviation
or a newly coined name for a technique, as keywords. However, very
general search terms (such as “cell” or “PCR”), which may make it
difficult for a researcher to find your article amid many other hits and
for a journal to select an appropriate editor and peer reviewers,
should also be omitted from the keyword list. The same is true for
abbreviations that may have multiple meanings (such as “PLC,” which
could stand for “phospholipase C” or “peptide-loading complex”). To
identify potentially effective keywords, consider using Google Scholar
or another engine to search for different commonly used, yet specific,
terms and assessing how relevant the results are to your own work.
We hope that today’s editing tip has provided useful guidance on
choosing effective keywords for your manuscript. If you have any
questions or comments, please contact us at AskAnExpert@aje.com. Best wishes!
Modified from version originally published on AJE's Expert Edge blog.
Editing Tip: Choosing Effective Keywords | American Journal Experts (AJE)