Keywords are the “keys” to unlock the required scientific articles from a mammoth assortment of correlated publications. The keywords used by you are the key to information or knowledge that you wish to dispense to the whole world. If you chose good keywords, people searching for information on a relevant subject/topic will find your article much faster and with lesser effort.

What are Keywords?

Keywords are essential words/concepts related to your research question/hypothesis or the focus of your case report, review article, editorial etc.

These ‘key’ words are used when searching through books (using indexes) and/or through electronic sources (search tools like search engines/directories). Electronic databases of medical literature possess very versatile search amenities. In the age of electronic database literature search is a fundamental method for initiating, conducting and publication of any research endeavor.

Keywords thereby play an enormous function in digging out the appropriate published research material. ‘Key’ words direct the researchers to appropriate research papers/articles/manuscripts that perhaps may not come to a researcher’s notice in the normal course of his or her appraisal. Your paper may be out of the radar for a researcher if it is not published in journals that most researchers read, hence may, unfortunately, escape their notice. In fact, even if your article is published in a reputed journal that the researcher does regularly browse through, they may not comprehend it as relevant because the title may fail to suggest its true relevance.

Keyword density and placement are significant in optimizing your articles for search engines. Search engine spiders scan a page using optimized algorithms. Hence, it is imperative to place keywords where they will be perceived and documented, so that your article achieves a higher ranking the search results when somebody is looking for that ‘key’ word.

Why do the journals want you to provide keywords?

Various journals have different guidelines for the number and type of keywords required. Most journals would ask you to provide a list of 5 to 12 keywords.

  • Journals use them to classify, categorize and organize their content.
  • Keywords are also be used to match a specific editor to a manuscript and to identify peer reviewers with related research interests.

Sometimes, the journals provide a list of preferred terms, often specifically requesting keywords from the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s collection of Medical Subject Headings (MeSH). By using the MeSH terms the journals certify that a “common vocabulary” is applied to index biomedical content, expediting literature searches.

Please keep in mind that some journals may require that particular keywords that cannot be used, for example, words that you have already integrated into your manuscript’s title be not used as keywords.

The logic behind Keywords and Search Engines

Good keywords being the primary words or short phrases, unambiguously define your topic and/or closely related topics. They should not run into long sentences. Using key-“words” while searching would more than often retrieve more results than phrases or sentences. While choosing keywords for your article, focus on those words that are associated with the main theme of your paper. Incorporating pertinent keywords can candidly recognize and search appropriate references and filter-out the unnecessary.

The search engines for most academic searches, such as library databases, use Boolean searching. It is named after 19th century British mathematician George Boole, who developed “Boolean Logic” that combines certain concepts and exclude certain concepts when searching databases. It is somewhat different from the searching used in Internet searches. A Boolean search uses “operators,” words (and, or, not, and near) that enable you to expand or restrict your search. Search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing etc., journals, indexing and abstracting services categorize manuscripts using keywords1,2,3,4. When a search engine spider sees that a word has been written several times in your article, it will define that your page may be useful to users that search for such a keyword.

Keywords have more relevance if they are included the title of your article or in the text of the abstract. MEDLINE searches for the selected keywords are in an apposite place, i.e. in the title and/or in the text of the abstract. In view of the algorithm used by many search engines keywords that are already within your manuscript title and/or abstract can help to promote the perceptibility of your article. Drafting an effective, representative title and abstract is, therefore, critical.

Search engines automatically index the words in the title, and keywords usually aid as additional pointers. A word that is not in the title and/or the abstract may also be used as a keyword. It may not be related to the main theme of the study but may still be relevant to the study subject. This ensures that the paper has more chances of being seen during Internet searches. Thus, an accurate list of keywords will ensure correct indexing and help showcase your research to interested groups1. This, in turn, will increase the chances of your paper being cited5.

How to chose the correct Keywords?

Keywords Research

Keywords for Research Article

Try to incorporate the most significant nouns as your keywords so that they act as clues, leading the searcher to your article. Thinking strategically about your keyword search is very vital and here are a few tips to go about it:

  • Begin brainstorming lists of possible ‘key’ words and phrases.
  • Read your paper thoroughly and narrow down the terms/phrases that are used repeatedly in the text.
  • Consider if those terms match the most important concepts related to your topic.
  • Think about synonyms for the chosen words, and well as its variations (singular and plural, noun and adjective forms, for example).
  • Now, refer to a common vocabulary/term list or indexing standard in your discipline (e.g., GeoRef, ERIC Thesaurus, PsycInfo, ChemWeb, BIOSIS Search Guide, MeSH Thesaurus) and ensure that the terms you have used match those used in these resources.
  • Seek the help of your reference librarian.
  • If the paper focuses on a specific geographical, climatic, region use that as a keyword
  • Contemplate utilizing the specific phenomenon, experimental material and/or technique(s), or potential applications that you have used in your study as your keyword.
  • Finally, before you submit your article, type your keywords into a search engine and check if the results match the subject of your paper. This will help you to decide if the keywords chosen are appropriate for the topic of your article.

What NOT to do when selecting keywords?

  • Avoid using words that are used sparingly (once or twice) in the main text or not at all
  • Avoid using obscure terminologies, such as a rare abbreviation or a newly coined name
  • Avoid using very general search terms (such as “blood” or “HIV”), which make it challenging for a researcher to find your article amidst many other hits and for a journal to select an appropriate peer reviewers/editors.
  • Avoid outdated terms, particularly if you are researching a rapidly changing field.

Getting the right ‘key’ word is an art in which your skills develop with time and experience. Selecting the correct keyword requires an apt strategy and its execution by planning a list of possible ‘key’ words and phrases. Don’t be discouraged if you have difficulty with your initial search. Just remember to ask for help if you are really stuck.

We hope that our tips offer some useful direction in your endeavor of choosing effective keywords for your manuscript. If you have any problems that we could help you with or observations you wish to share, please leave a comment below.

Resources to select correct Keywords


  1. Day R and GastelB. How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 6thEdition. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2006.
  2. Koopman P. How to Write an Abstract. Available from:
  3. SAGE Publications. Help Readers Find Your Article. Available from:
  4. Fathalla M and Fathalla M. A Practical Guide for Health Researchers. Available from:
  5. Taylor & Francis Author Services. Writing your article. Available from:

Anurag Tewari MD & A. P Singh MD (APtizer)

Image Courtesy ImageBase

How to Cite this Article: Tewari A, Singh AP (Feb 2016). Keywords for your research article. Retrieved on (Month/Date/Year) from


Also, read the following Articles that will help you write, organize and write an error-free manuscript that has high chances of getting accepted by the journal.








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