Making Your Publication Findable

“We should look to the mind, and not to the outward appearance” said Aesop. Yet, outward appearance sometimes matters.

In publishing, the title and abstract of an article in a database (e.g. Pubmed, Embase, Web of Science), as well as some other information, such as listed your affiliation, represents the “face” of your article. It’s very important to make your title/abstract an adequate representative of your article, and many science authors do a good job putting a lot of essential information in the abstracts. Yet, an important aspect may be overlooked,  not just the information itself, but what makes it “findable,” or more exposed to the world.

Although some biomedical databases such as Pubmed and Embase assign controlled vocabulary (subject headings such as MeSH or Emtree terms) to the references, which aids others in finding your article, not all databases do so, and not for articles in any journal. In any case, even if your article is assigned subject headings in some databases, the text words in the database record, especially in the title, abstract and author supplied keywords matter a lot. They matter for finding your article by a database searcher, and they matter for how your article record is sorted in relevance ranking in search results. It’s in your power, as an author, to make your article findable easily via a database.

Here are some tips on how to make your publication findable via a database search:

  • Use both abbreviations adopted in the field and the corresponding full names in the title, abstract and author keywords. Example: long non-coding RNA (lncRNA)
  • Use special characters with caution as many of them can’t be used as search terms (e.g. plus and minus characters). It is best to use full words instead. For example, if a database user types HER2+ in the PubMed search box, the user will retrieve all articles on HER2, both positive and negative, as the “+” character is ignored by PubMed. At the same time, if a database user types HER2 positive in the search box, the user may never find your article if you only used HER2+ in the information that goes into a database record. If you used the words HER2 positive in the title, abstract or keywords instead or in addition to, your work would be easily found in PubMed by a searcher using the word positive when searching for HER2+ cancers.
  • Some databases recognize Greek characters (e.g, if a searcher pastes the title of your article where you used the Greek character for Beta in the PubMed search box, they will find your article but if they paste this title in full in the Web of Science search box, they won’t find your article unless they type beta as a word.
  • Use author keywords options offered by many databases to supply well established synonyms, alternatively spelled words and important additional terms not already used in the title or abstract to increase the chance of a database user finding your article if they search by terms not used by you in the title/abstract.
  • Use the full name of your institution as your affiliation, not just the institution abbreviation, department or address.

Key takeaways:

Always think about the ways your article can be searched for and found in different major databases when you name your article, write the article abstract, supply author keywords, list your affiliation, list the sponsor/grant, etc.