How to Choose the Best Keywords for Your Research Paper
  • 6-minute read
  • 29th July 2023

How to Choose the Best Keywords for Your Research Paper

After writing a research paper, you will want others to find your research online. But how? Through social media? By telling your friends? You could. The only thing is that scholars and researchers typically find research through academic databases and search engines. To get your research noticed, you need to include keywords in your paper. But why do keywords matter? How can you choose the right keywords?

We’ll answer these questions in this post. You’ll learn how to choose the best keywords for a research paper. Additionally, you’ll learn:

  • The importance of keywords.
  • Strategies for choosing quality keywords.
  • Where to include keywords in a paper.

While keywords may seem insignificant, failing to include them is a mistake when writing research papers. Quality keywords accurately represent the content of your research, allowing scholars in your field to find it in an online search quickly.

Why Are Keywords Important?

Keywords make it easy for others to find your research in search engines and academic databases. Finding relevant research papers can be arduous, so readers circumvent this by using specific phrases and terms to find research that aligns with their interests. Therefore, you need to include keywords to match those phrases and terms. Without quality keywords, your research will end up in the academic abyss.

In short, keywords:

●  Produce precise search results.

●  Save researchers time and effort as they search for material.

●  Enhance discoverability (i.e., help others find your research fast).

●  Ensure that your paper is properly categorized in databases.

As a rule, you should choose five keywords maximum for research papers.

Strategies for Choosing Robust Keywords

1. Avoid Long Phrases and Ambiguity

For keywords in research papers, most journals request phrases that are one to four words in length, meaning no complete sentences. Try using nouns whenever possible, and avoid using conjunctions such as and. It’s also worth mentioning that you should avoid using terms that are in your paper’s title.

Use distinct keywords that are directly related to your research. Generic terms don’t reflect specific terms that potential readers use during their search.

cyberbullying awareness

2. Consider Your Audience

Who is your targeted audience? Educators? Engineers? Consider potential terms or phrases your audience would use to search for your research, then modify chosen keywords to match your audience’s terminology. Understanding your audience is vital for creating quality keywords.

3. Identify Core Concepts

What are the core concepts, topics, and themes of your research? These are the main ideas that the paper addresses, which can be found in the abstract section. Make a list of these items.

Let’s say your paper is about cyberbullying in high schools. Examples of core concepts/terms related to the research include:

●  Digital harassment

●  Exclusion

●  Trolling

●  Anonymity (the state of being nameless)

●  Impact on student mental health

●  Prevention and education

Core concepts, topics, and themes can be a few words or phrases. Once you’ve identified them, consider how to turn them into specific keywords.

4. Consult Similar Research

Consulting research papers on your topic is a great way to find keywords. As you research them, examine the keywords they use to describe their content. This can provide insight into commonly accepted terms and terminology within your field. We suggest researching at least three related papers.

5. Use Synonyms and Variations

Readers interested in your field will use different terminology in their online search. Therefore, you need to use synonyms and variations of your chosen keywords. Synonyms are words that have the same meaning as another word.

To illustrate this, let’s take the previous example of the paper about cyberbullying in high schools. You could use the following keywords for this research:

●  Cyberbullying awareness

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●  Online safety

●  Cyberbullying education

●  Student online behavior

What synonyms could you use for these keywords? Let’s try this:

●  Cyberbullying perception

●  Virtual security

●  Online harassment education

●  Student online conduct

You can play around with synonyms until you find ones that resonate with you. Using an online thesaurus, such as Word Hippo, can make finding synonyms a breeze.

6. Include Acronyms and Abbreviations

Does your paper contain commonly used acronyms and abbreviations, such as DNA and AI? If so, consider including them as keywords, as readers often use acronyms and abbreviations to find relevant research. This will significantly increase the chances of readers finding your work.

However, we don’t recommend using acronyms or abbreviations that are only known within your field. A general audience will likely be unfamiliar with them. We suggest spelling them out in full if you think they would be strong keywords. You should also spell the definition as a keyword if the abbreviation or acronym appears in the paper’s title.

7. Test Your Keywords for Optimal Results

Once you’ve compiled your best keywords, test them in search engines and academic databases to see if they produce the right results. Think of it as testing a tent in your backyard before going out into the woods for an overnight camping trip. If there are problems with the tent during the backyard test, you can at least retreat into your house. Likewise, if the chosen keywords don’t generate positive results in a test, you can refine them before submitting the paper.

Where Are Keywords Included in a Paper?

Some sources insist that you include keywords in the title, while others say subheadings are better. Most academic journals require paying a subscription to access full articles. However, one can easily access a paper’s abstract in academic search engines like Google Scholar.

Keywords Appearing an Abstract

Therefore, we recommend including keywords in the abstract section. Additionally, it provides an overall summary of your paper, making it the ideal spot for keywords.


Let’s summarize what we’ve learned:

●  Keywords help readers find your research in search engines.

●  Aim for five keywords.

●  Keywords should be one to four words in length.

●  Identify a potential audience before selecting keywords.

●  Consult similar research for samples of appropriate keywords.

●  Use word variations (synonyms).

●  Include abbreviations and acronyms.

●  Test keywords before submitting the paper.

Finally, for our visual readers, we recommend this video on choosing the best keywords for a paper.

As with any writing, we strongly recommend proofreading your research paper before submission. It needs to be checked for common errors such as typos and extra spacing. We understand the challenges of proofreading, which is why we recommend asking us to proofread and review your writing. We can check that the paper is clear and concise. Additionally, we will ensure perfect grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Consider submitting a 500-word document for free!

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