Notes From a Manuscript Editor: How to Make Your Research More Discoverable

You’ve spent months researching and writing an article. It’s gone through rounds of review, copyediting, and proofreading. It’s published. But the work isn’t over. There are several actions that can be taken by you, your editor, and the publisher to increase the discoverability of both you as a researcher and your publication.

Thousands of academic journals are being published, and even though the Open Access movement has brought academic research out from behind paywalls, the issue remains that there is a sea of academic literature that your work has the potential to drown in.

Catchy titles may not work as well anymore if they don’t have key search terms in them. You might not be recognised for your work if the publisher used an inconsistent treatment of your initials. And information that is not even visible – metadata, that is – can have great influence on the potential readership of a work.

Here are some actions that you can take to make your work more discoverable.

What’s in a name?

There is actually quite a bit of importance placed on the title of an article, chapter, or book. The title should be informative and provide a good picture of what the article or chapter is about, and the main topic should be obvious from the title. A subtitle is a good opportunity to add additional information, such as the type of study or main methods used. Use keywords (search terms), but naturally (i.e., don’t “keyword stuff”).

For example, if this section were an article, then “What’s in a name?” would not be a good title. Rather, “The importance of titles in making articles discoverable: How to use keywords to find readers” would be a better option.

When trying to determine the best title for your work, imagine yourself as a reader who is trying to find it. What would you type into the search engine if you were trying to discover an article on your topic? This is where you start – and you should test your ideas by searching for them to see what results.

Don’t forget the keywords

As hinted above, good keywords are not just terms that appear often in the text. Think of keywords as search terms: they should be specifically descriptive and cover important aspects, such as key concepts, research topic, method, application of results, audience, or research subjects.

Keywords are an opportunity to include variations, alternate spellings, or terms that the title and abstract do not naturally contain. Very important keywords that are in the title or abstract can be repeated, but avoid too much repetition, as the search engine my interpret it as “keyword stuffing”.

“For a long time, keywords and SEO content have been a critical part of how information is served and how it needs to match intent. Over recent years whilst this has remained important to draw attention to specifics, it has changed slightly to be more phrase friendly, finding keywords used in a more natural context”.

– Search Engine Watch

Additionally, advancements in search engine algorithms and voice-to-text technology have incorporated intent and phrased questions into the mix. That is, rather than “discoverability” as a keyword, “make research discoverable” would turn up more accurate results. Thus, to increase the chances of the appropriate readers finding your work, use 2–4-word phrases, rather than generic single-word keywords that could lead to false matches.

Summarise smartly

Abstracts and chapter summaries are yet another opportunity to put yourself in the reader’s position. The purpose of an abstract is to clearly and immediately let readers know if they’re in the right place – if the publication they’ve found is a good match for what they are looking for.

The abstract should therefore not be a paragraph copied and pasted from the introduction or conclusion, but should rather be a comprehensive overview of the entire article or chapter. It should include a clearly stated research question (or topic), methods and methodology, a brief summary of the findings and conclusions, and the implications (i.e., why the study is important). Work in some of your keywords, but again, avoid “keyword stuffing” – that is, unnatural use of keywords.

Distinguish yourself

Affiliations change. Researchers move to new institutions. People get married, divorced, or decide to initial their names differently. All of these instances have the potential to lead to publications being disconnected from their authors. ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) is a not-for-profit organisation who offers a solution: a persistent digital identifier for you as an individual researcher that enables you to share your information, ensures recognition for your contributions, and minimises errors. ORCID’s vision is “a world where all who participate in research, scholarship, and innovation are uniquely identified and connected to their contributions across disciplines, borders, and time” (learn more about ORCID).

Put the word out

Utilise social media, academic networks, university message boards, and so forth to spread the word about your publication. Active engagement by authors in promoting their own work has shown to be one of the most important aspects in increasing readership.

At the publishing house Nordicom, we actively promote all our individual publications, and you can assist your editors and communications officers by providing accurate and well-thought-out information and descriptions of your work, following the thought processes described above.

Pay attention and practise

Last but not least, pay attention to the articles you yourself search out and find easily, versus the ones you had to do more investigation to find. How are their titles and keywords different?

Did you receive a notification via social media? Did someone e-mail you personally? Think about what makes it easier for you to find academic research, and that will increase the chances of getting your work to your readers.

Related Reading:
Notes From a Manuscript Editor: What You Should Know about Preparing Your Manuscript

Photos: Marten Newhall, Karim Ghantous, Fallon Michael, Patrick Fore – on Unsplash