Monday, January 26, 2015

Why use Keywords?

Hi all,
I am back and am excited to be writing for WNI again. I have missed you all.

As many of you may know, my husband Ron passed away from COPD in August. The last 5 months have been the most difficult and challenging ones of my life. After 49 years of a great marriage, I am struggling to come back to myself without him but I am moving forward again.

This is an important article he wrote for my blog soon before he died but it was never published. I am publishing it now for your knowledge and also to honor his life, his brilliance and his work as an Invertebrate Pathologist working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for 25 years.

by Dr. Ronald H. Goodwin

                   The Value of Key Words for more Effective Communication

The concept of keywords began very early on with the age of computers, especially in the area of scientific literature. The world of science communication and publication demanded that increased thought be given to the guidance that was then being codified in the Science Citation Index and with that, electronic bibliographic content and early subject oriented search engines which searched abstracts, synopses, and titles of articles.

Many scientists in the 1970's were unaware of this new automation of bibliographic searching and its critical use in the then present and future of the communication of scientific thought. They often treated their publications as onerous requirements that were unimportant compared to their "real work" of scientific exploration and experimental activities. After all, who would find them and read them?

As a scientific researcher working for the USDA, I noticed with alarm that title words and words in abstracts often did not represent or flesh out the subject being investigated and often dwelled on the trivial side issues, or belabored technicalities. It became apparent that appropriate key words would need to be used to classify publications properly and they would not be passed over due to appropriate wording. In the late 1970s I gave a talk at the national agriculture library (NAL) conference for scientists on bibliographic searches. I stressed the importance of accurate keywords and what happens without them. Not only do people not read about your work, you may be completely misunderstood.

I imagine most of you have heard of the Golden Fleece award for the least significant scientific research of the year. Actually, the research was, in most cases, important basic research conducted for a very good reason, but because the reasons for the research were never included in the article's key words, it seemed completely ridiculous to others who knew little about it.

Things have changed since those days. Now everyone uses keywords to bring readers to their writings. But the present internet use of keywords has led to inappropriate terms, descriptions, and claims in an attempt to garner a higher place in subject listings on Google Search. Both fiction and nonfiction writers are trying to "game" the system and as a consequence the present system sometimes also mistakes what the contents of articles and books are dealing with. I believe that "hot words" and emotional "hook" words will become their own worst enemies. Readers are not stupid and will soon catch on to misleading statements "hyping" certain sensational viewpoints.

You owe it to your readers and to yourself to be honest in clearly stating your actual viewpoint and what your publication is really dealing with. You will not fool your readers for long. Responses, both positive and negative, are now immediate in this internet world of ours. Likewise it is probably unwise to pursue publication if you have little to say. The truth is that content is still king. Ask yourself, "What do I believe I have to say that it is important for others to know? Do I really know exactly what it is I want to say and the facts about the topic, instead of an arbitrary opinion I can't substantiate?" Write whatever you wish to, but tell your ideas or read your article to some honest friends before you commit to publishing them.

Now that you have written something meaningful, and/or moving, or entertaining, you must tell your reader clearly about the subject and how you have dealt with it. Only you know what the critical words are that will evoke quick recognition of the depth of the topic you have chosen.

If you are writing a book that falls between genres or outside of ordinary classifications, and wish to get it published by a large publishing house, good keywords will be especially important. But don't depend upon prospective agents or publishers to know or effectively and fairly judge your work. Many excellent and widely recognized authors were dismissed or rejected due to a lack of imagination by big publishing houses: Mark Twain, John Grisham, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and many others were initially rejected before becoming successful writers.

Good luck all writers. You have something important to say. Don't let your readers slip away because you didn't use the right keywords!



Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

Thank you so much for posting this wonderful article. How lucky we are to have a glimpse into the mind's eye of your beloved husband. He was always so encouraging, and it is nice to read of his faith in all of us even still. We are very fortunate to have you in our midst.

Jennifer Rova said...

Your husband was a wise man in many ways. He understood science but he also understood the human mind. I appreciated that he made the effort to write such a good post. I am glad you are back, Ana, writing for WNI!