• 3-minute read
  • 27th October 2019

How to Pick the Best Keywords for a Journal Article

Once you’ve written an academic journal article, you may need to pick some keywords before submitting it for publication. These will help people find your work, so read our guide on how to pick keywords for a journal article.

Why Do I Need to Pick Keywords for My Article?

Academic publishers usually ask authors to pick a few keywords whenever they submit a paper. These ‘keywords’ are terms relevant to your article that people can search for on a journal database.

Along with your title and abstract, these keywords will impact how many people find, read, and cite your paper. It is therefore vital to give this issue a little thought. But how should you pick keywords for a journal article?

5 Tips on How to Select Keywords

To find the best keywords for a journal article, follow these tips.

1. Use the Publisher’s Guidelines

Check whether the journal’s publisher has any guidelines on how to select keywords. At the very least, they should provide advice on how many keywords are required (usually five to eight). These guidelines are often part of the author instructions, along with advice on writing style and formatting.

2. Focus on the Main Topic of Your Research

Use the main topic of your paper to guide keyword selection. For instance, if your paper is about the medical usage of nanotechnology, your keywords would include terms like “nanomedicine” and “nanopharmaceutics.” It can also help to consider what your target reader is likely to search for in a database.

3. Don’t Duplicate Words from Your Title

The title of your paper is important partly because it will register on search engines. And since you can only pick a few keywords for your article, you should avoid duplicating any terminology already used in the paper’s title.

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4. Be Specific

Try to be as specific as possible. This may include using “key phrases” of two or three words, since single-word terms can be too ambiguous.

For instance, whereas “nanotechnology” would bring up every paper related to nanotechnology in any way, searching for a key phrase like “cancer nanotechnology” would only find papers specifically about cancer AND nanotechnology. Using specific keywords will therefore help readers with a specific interest in your subject area to find your paper.

5. Test Your Keywords

Finally, once you have selected some keywords, enter them into a relevant journal database. If they bring up articles on topics similar to your own, then you’ve selected good keywords. If not, you may need to try again.

In addition, if you’re struggling to come up with keywords that work, you can search for some articles that cover a similar subject. You can then check their keywords and use these to guide your own choices.

Summary: How to Select Keywords for a Journal Article

In summary, when selecting keywords for a journal article you should always:

  1. Follow the publisher’s guidelines for selecting keywords.
  2. Focus on terms related to the main topic of your research.
  3. Avoid duplicating words used in your title.
  4. Be specific and use multi-word “key phrases” where possible.
  5. Test your keywords on a relevant journal database.

Good luck! And let us know if you need help proofreading your article.

Comments (4)
3rd February 2021 at 06:03
Duplicating the words used in the title, when connecting and comparing the main title to something how we can avoid?
    3rd February 2021 at 09:26
    Hi there. I'm afraid I don't fully follow your question. Do you mean how do you avoid duplicating words from the title of an article when picking keywords? If so, it would be a case of looking for other terms that people might search for when trying to find papers on the topic you've written about. One solution would be to follow the other tips here and look at what similar papers use for keywords, then choose ones that don't appear in your paper's title.
seyoum bekele
5th December 2022 at 07:24
i did not understand by saying personal key words
    11th December 2022 at 12:25
    Hi, Seyoum. Do you mean keywords that you’ve selected yourself? The tips in the article should be able to help you with selecting them, but if anything’s not covered here, let us know and we’ll do our best to help!

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