The main reason for publishing a journal article is to create awareness of your research amongst your colleagues and the wider scientific community.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could become famous or receive the Nobel Prize for your research because colleagues could more easily find your paper?

This may not be likely due to keywords alone, but every scientist wants to be well informed regarding the current advances in their respective field, which can be generally achieved by reading journal articles or books in the field. Typically, when browsing through papers, a researcher only has a general idea of what articles he/she wants, making it difficult to narrow down to only one paper (unless one specific paper is sought out). Additionally, many researchers do searches when they are actively writing their paper, so if your paper is relevant, the chances of a citation are high. Thus, the search criteria, specifically the keywords used for your article, are extremely important.

Keywords help a searcher choose the most relevant research article to read. However, when writing papers, listing the most important keywords is often an afterthought for authors, and rarely do scientists perform research into which keywords are best to include. This is a must and is relatively easy because scientists already know how to analytically research various topics!

Keyword search results are directly related to the quality of the keywords that you choose, just like when searching on Google. Including appropriate keywords in your paper helps indexers and search engines find your paper, thus allowing it to appear at the top in search results. Every researcher should want their research to land at the top of search results so that it can make the highest possible impact.

When a relevant article lands at the top of search results (in Google Scholar, Web of Science, SciFinder, etc.), this can significantly enhance the frequency of citations it receives, and citations can greatly increase your credibility in your field.

Compiled below are 6 tips for choosing appropriate keywords for your manuscript:

1. Include your techniques and/or specific methodology.

The most important experimental techniques used in your article are worth considering as keywords, for example, X-ray crystallography, Immunohistochemistry, Real-time PCR, etc. Just make sure that the formatting of the keyword (e.g., FT-IR vs. FTIR) is the most commonly used in the literature so that your paper does not get left out of searches for that term.

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2. Focus on the main topic of your research.

For example, if your research is based on diabetes, possible keywords could be blood glucose, insulin, glucometer, etc. If the topic is hypertension, keywords to include could be blood pressure, circulation, stroke, pulse rate, heart, etc. Just remember to be specific enough that your main area of research is included (see tip 3 below).

3. Avoid keywords that are only one word.

Ensure that the keywords that you select are not too long but also not too short. Keywords that are too short will render the search unspecific, whereas keywords that are too long may filter articles to such a great extent that your paper could be excluded. For example, if your research is on pediatric diabetes, use long tail keywords that are relevant to your study. In this case, ‘blood glucose’ or ‘insulin’ may be too broad, and your paper would be lost in a sea of papers on diabetes.

4. Avoid overlapping keywords in your title and those in your keyword list.

Don’t waste keyword space on words used in your title. This is generally advised by most journals (but check your journal guidelines). Instead, make sure your title utilizes appropriate keywords on your topic that can supplement your keyword list (for example, “The effect of insulin inhibitors on pediatric diabetes in children from 10-12 years old”).

5. Follow the journal guidelines when selecting keywords.

Every journal has certain specifications when it comes to selecting keywords. In medicine, for example, most journals and clinical papers specifically recommend a list of terms drawn from the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s collection of Medical Subject Headings (MeSH). Usage of the MeSH terms is supposed to aid literature searches and add weight to publications. However, other fields have other guidelines and requirements. Additionally, most journals ask the authors to present 5-8 of the most suitable keywords (and unfortunately, some only want 5-8 single- word keywords) that will enable the publisher and databases to organize the scholarly content. So, be sure to follow their guidelines appropriately.

6. Perform keyword research before submitting your article.

Do a search yourself using the keywords you intend to submit with your article.

Do these keywords pull up articles that are very similar to your own? Or, do you need to tailor your keywords more specifically?

This technique will also give you insight into your competition. For example, which keywords do those papers use that you want to compete with?

Additionally, there are some keyword planners out there that you could use for Google Scholar. Although these are more targeted towards Google searches in general and not towards scientific databases, such as Web of Science, they could give you ideas for keywords that you haven’t yet considered. Thus, these methods can provide you with very valuable ‘keyword research’ and data to develop the best keywords for your article.

Hopefully, these 6 tips will help you stay focused when determining which keywords to include in your paper.

Don’t let your keyword choices be an afterthought!

Keywords are scientific terms that present a perfect summary or key to your study, and it is of utmost importance to provide other researchers with an opportunity to find your paper by choosing the right keywords.

Another great source of information is the book entitled ‘A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations’ by Kate L. Turabian, which provides detailed ideas on choosing keywords for your publication.

I hope this information is helpful for selecting keywords that will successfully connect your research with your target audience. Good luck!

Additionally, Falcon Scientific Editing will be glad to help customers select appropriate keywords upon request. We provide full support and guidance throughout the publication process for customers of our editing, translation, formatting, and illustration services . You are welcome to read our reviews and view samples of our work to see the benefits of working with us!

Other articles you may also like:

Choosing the Best Journal for Your Paper: Top 5 Recommendations

11 Tips for Impressing the Journal Editor with Your Cover Letter

Publishing in English-language journals

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About the Author:

Choosing Keywords for Your Scientific Manuscript: 6 Tips Lavina Miranda has a Master of Science in biotechnology from St. Xavier’s College with expertise in molecular biology and microbiology. After graduation, she worked as a content designer and E-tutor. To pursue her passion for scientific research, she then joined the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2014 where her work included reprogramming probiotics to become viable vessels for the treatment of superbug infections. In her current role as a researcher at Kuwait University, her project focuses on the effect of garlic ( Allium sativum ) on the expression of insulin m-RNA and polypeptides in the tissues of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Apart from research, she also enjoys exploring new places, socializing with people from different cultural backgrounds, and dancing.

Topics : Scientific Writing Keywords
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