With the ever-increasing number of publications and researchers across the globe, digitally identifying relevant studies and literature has become a challenge. Thanks to search engines like Google Scholar and PubMed, academic literature is both easier to find and disseminate. Within seconds of typing a few words in the search engine, we have hundreds -if not thousands- of filtered, relevant results at our fingertips when researching a topic. While having this wealth of information at our fingertips is a blessing, too many returned results can also be a curse.
The reader may be overwhelmed, not knowing how to discern quality results, especially when they are students or young researchers. Therefore, keywords play an important role in narrowing down the large volume of resources available online. Having the right keywords not only leads to more views, but possibly more citations. This quick guide on choosing keywords for your academic manuscript will help it rank higher on search engines and make it easier for others to find your research.
Not Too Little, But Not Too Much
Always follow the guidelines provided by your target journal. Instructions regarding the number and type of keywords required vary between journals. For example, a few journals allow single words rather than phrases. However, many journals require 4-8 keywords for your academic manuscript. In some cases, journals prefer that keywords for particular documents, such as clinical publications, use terms from the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) collection by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Avoid using terms already included in your title if your journal restrictions state not to do so. Use alternate terms to those in your title, even when your journal does not restrict using title terms as keywords. Why? Your title is already made searchable by algorithms used by search engines. So, use alternate terms as keywords so you can supplement the content in your title.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Instead of using broad terms, keywords should focus on core content. For example, if you are writing a research paper on a newly invented method for ‘Genomic DNA Extraction’, do not include general keywords like ‘Microbiology’ or ‘Molecular Biology’. Use terms that clearly reflect the main content and are used multiple times in the manuscript.
Know Your Audience
Focus on your target audience by using terms commonly related to your field. Do not use vague terms or unusual abbreviations as keywords like this will reduce your chances of getting higher readership. Use abbreviated terms as keywords only when the variant phrase is commonly known and used in your researched field – e.g. PCR vs. polymerase chain reaction.
Keywords Are Not Just for Your Audience
Did you know keywords are also important for the publication process? Keywords are also useful to help journals identify potential peer reviewers by a specific research topic or methodology. Of course, journals will eventually get around to reading your manuscript but having these identified key terms helps cut through the clutter, making them especially useful to journals that receive many submissions and are highly competitive. Even with our services at Big Bang Editing, we have many editors who are skilled in the life sciences, a smaller amount are experts in virology, a fraction of those virologists has experience in retroviruses and even less of those people are familiar with imaging viral replication factories. Having the appropriate keywords makes matching your manuscript to reviewers a breeze.
Before submitting your manuscript to a journal, you should test your keywords. One easy way of doing this is by entering your keywords into various databases such as Web of Science or Google Scholar, for example. If search results are not similar to your topic, revise your keywords until you get the desired results.
Hopefully, these tips will significantly help you choose keywords for your academic manuscript. The closer keywords align with the content in a manuscript, the higher on the search results list it appears making it accessible to your target audience. And that’s great! Because why spend months conducting research and writing a paper that no one ever reads?