Select. Index. Repeat.
While the main purpose behind keywords is for selection, the other purpose of the abstract and keywords is for indexing. Since most article databases in online catalogs let you search abstracts, keywords make quick work of the search function by eliminating full-text searches for articles that don’t apply.
Tips for Choosing Effective Keywords
- Use the words you used when searching articles for your literature review.
- Tie your keywords to your title and topic. If your title is “Why Senior Women Leaders Opt Out” that pretty much sets your keywords.
- Use your headings to determine keywords. Dissertations in APA style use five levels of headings. Look at your level 2 headings to determine keywords.
- Follow APA or your school’s guidelines for use of keywords. Most of the time you’ll choose five or six keywords. Some schools and most peer-reviewed publications have specific guidelines for the number and type of keywords used. Some publications even provide a list of preferred terms or keywords, what they often refer to as a common vocabulary.
- Consider your target audience. Most people who will search for terms used in your dissertation will be in your field. Include terms specific to your field while at the same time expanding your keywords to include people who may be interested in your methodology or another aspect of your dissertation.
- Avoid acronyms or jargon. This should go without saying but sometimes when you get to the dissertation stage your focus gets so narrow that you think everyone will be in the same place you are in terms of interest and experience.
- Use key phrases not just keywords. And use synonyms for the key phrases. (For my dissertation I looked at women leaders and women executives.)
- Go back to articles you referenced in your literature review and check what keywords they used in their abstracts.
- Think globally. Some terms may differ in the international market. Grades in the United States may be referred to as “forms” in the UK.
- Include all variations of a keyword. For my dissertation (naturally) I included opt-out, opting out, opt out without a hyphen. For this article I’d use keywords and key words.
Like all things to do with the dissertation, APA even has guidelines for formatting keywords. These keywords go at the bottom of the abstract (which, of course, has its own set of formatting rules).
- Two spaces (one double space) after the last sentence in the abstract, type the word “Keywords” in italics followed by a colon. Place it flush left, no indent.
- Using lowercase letters type in the keywords followed by commas BUT without using a comma at the end.
Example (from my own dissertation on why senior women leaders opt out – much longer title but that’s all we have room for here):
Keywords: leadership, women leaders, opt-out, glass ceiling, positivistic case study
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Keywords and SEO are joined at the hip. Virtually every virtual site uses SEO to make sure people find and visit their site. The keywords you choose will determine how many people find and read your dissertation. Since most searchers don’t look past the first page of the search results, you can see why choosing the correct keywords is so important.
Network Solutions (http://www.networksolutions.com/education/choosing-seo-keywords/) says there are four factors to keep in mind when choosing keywords: keyword volume, keyword relevance, keyword competition, and keyword focus.
Keyword volume: All this means is how often you use the term in your dissertation. So you go to “Find,” type in the word and you’ll see a list of how many times it appears. If in doubt go for volume. The downside is that generic terms get the most searches so you’ll end up on page 250 if you don’t choose carefully.
Example: With my dissertation there would be a billion cites with “leadership” as a keyword but many fewer sites with women leaders opt-out.
Keyword relevance: Keywords have to be real. That means you have to use keywords that truly describe what people will find in your dissertation. APA doesn’t like superlatives or even adjectives (or anthropomorphizing for that matter) so you can’t exaggerate findings or expand on the topic to get more people interested in your work.
Example: Again, with my dissertation being about women leaders opting out, it would be misleading to piggyback on Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In (which by the way came out after my dissertation and my easy-to-read dissertation wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves).
Keyword competition: All you have to do to check the competition for your keyword is to do a simple search for that one word. The more results for the word the less likely people are to find your dissertation.
Example: While my dissertation (enough already with your dissertation!) was about women leaders opting out, it was also a positivistic case study which isn’t a methodology normally associated with this topic.
Keyword focus: Narrowing the focus by expanding the keyword phrase helps get your dissertation out there.
Example: Naturally, again using my own dissertation, I found 94,000,000 sites using opt-out and only 62,000,000 using women opt-out, and only 3,810,000 for women leaders opt out. You can see where this is going, right?
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