Gbur and Trumbo (1995) published a list of ways of producing effective key words and phrases. Table 2.4.3 provides an abbreviated version.
It is possible that, with future developments, all of these problems will actually disappear. As one colleague has put it, 'Inverted-full-text-Boolean indexing and online searching (with similarity algorithms and citation-
Table 2.4.2 Different methods for supplying key words
Authors supply them with no restrictions on the numbers allowed.
Authors supply up to a fixed number (e.g. six).
Authors supply key words as appropriate from a specified list.
Editors supplement/amend authors' key words.
Editors supply key words.
Editors supply key words from a specified list.
Referees supply key words from a specified list.
Key words are allocated according to the 'house-rules' applied to all journals distributed by a specific publisher.
Key words are determined by computer program at proof stage. Hartley and Kostoff (2003).
Table 2.4.3 Ten ways to produce effective key words and phrases
1 Use simple, specific noun clauses. For example, use variance estimation, not estimate of variance.
2 Avoid terms that are too common. Otherwise the number of 'hits' will be too large to manage.
3 Do not repeat key words from the title. These will be picked up anyway.
4 Avoid unnecessary prepositions, especially in and of. For example, use data quality rather than quality of data.
5 Avoid acronyms. Acronyms can fall out of favour and be puzzling to beginners and/or overseas readers.
6 Spell out Greek letters and avoid mathematical symbols. These are impractical for computer-based searches.
7 Include only the names of people if they are part of an established terminology, for example Skinner box, Poisson distribution.
8 Include, where applicable, mathematical or computer techniques, such as generating function, used to derive results, and a statistical philosophy or approach such as maximum likelihood or Bayes' theory.
9 Include alternative or inclusive terminology. If a concept is, or has been, known by different terminologies, use a key word that might help a user conducting a search across a time-span, or from outside your speciality. For example, the statistician's characteristic function is the mathematician's Fourier transform, and in some countries educational administration is educational management.
Adapted from Gbur and Trumbo (1995), pp. 29-33, and reproduced in substantially altered form with permission of the authors and The American Statistician. © the American Statistical Association, 1995. All rights reserved.
ranking) will soon make keywords and human-subject-classification a thing of the past'. Put more simply, this means that we will soon be able to input any words, pairs of words or phrases that we like from an article into a search engine and come up with related materials. Unfortunately, of course, this also means that the searcher is likely to be swamped with information — most of which will be inappropriate. If, for example, you use Google Advanced Scholar to search for 'key words', you will obtain approximately 800 citations.
All of this suggests that considerable thought needs to go into the selection of key words. Borrowing from Hughes (2005), it might be worth considering selecting words from a series of categories such as:
• discipline: for example economics, management, psychology, education
• method: for example experiment, case study, questionnaire, grounded theory
• data source: for example primary, secondary, tertiary students, senior citizens
• location: for example country, town, institution
• topic: for example academic writing.
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