April 20, 2017
Clement Weinberger, PhD, Filipodia Editor
It’s all about the words that you use and where they are in your article. Think about the last manuscript that you submitted to a journal. You uploaded a title, the author names and institutions, an abstract, the manuscript, keywords, and the article type. When published, these all took their proper place in a paper or electronic publication, or both. To keep up with current research, many investigators regularly scan the contents of a series of favorite journals. To find a publication that can answer a specific question, the original choice of words by the investigators becomes important. To an indexing service like Index Medicus, Sci Search, or Embase, among others, the article title, author names and institutions, abstract, article type, year of publication, and language, are considered “metadata” and are included in a searchable database. When you look for publications on PubMed or Google Scholar for example, you can retrieve those with specific words in the title or abstract, or by the particular authors who wrote them, or by publication date in a given range of years. You choose relevant combinations of search terms and hundreds of journals are searched simultaneously. If you want to use the publications to write a systematic review or conduct a meta-analysis, then the words you use in the search and the way you use them greatly contribute to finding what is needed. If you are interested, there is a good tutorial with tips on using PubMed at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/.
From any point of view, a clear, concise title and a good abstract are both instrumental. Make sure that your title briefly identifies your research topic and says something unique about it. The abstract should clearly and concisely explain what is new in your paper and why that is important. This may be a little outside the blog topic, but remember that your direct conclusion from the results may be of greater interest to others than its implications are.
Now for a little bit about the keywords – journals say that keywords are intended to make it easier for people to find your article after it’s been published and indexed. They often advise not choosing words that appear in the article title or abstract. That is because they are more general “tags” that search engines can easily find. A friend of mine who is a librarian and knowledge management specialist encourages using the medical subject headings (MeSH) that the National Library of Medicine literature database uses. (https://www.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/meshhome.html). If you do use MeSH as a source of keywords, database searches will be more likely to retrieve your article within a group of or fairly closely related publications.
Remember, how other investigators find your publications and how you find theirs, and what both of you or looking for, are “two sides of the same coin”.