Ahearn, L. (2013). Keywords as a Literacy Practice (Summary)

Ahearn studied keywords and titles that she generated from the keywords and title of articles from the American Ethnologist journal. The samples chosen were the years 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2012. On discussing the survey results, Ahearn argues that the selection of keywords has social, intellectual, political, and economic influences that may or may not match up with the wording of titles. One important note is that generating multiple word clouds may look like different results, even if the data is the same. This shows the importance of understanding how sharing data in different visual ways can influence many interpretations. I think this piece presents a great discussion on the choice of words and how they reflect more of a zeitgeist of popularity than the true keywords of each article. I think it is also important that the article notes that a choice may be limited to how many characters fit into the format of a journal. This is a perfect example of how we can unintentionally develop bias throughout a discipline just by not thinking about things like form design or formatting restrictions. A key point I took from this piece is that titles and keywords are very similar to SEO marketing. Humans are more likely to choose to read articles based on titles, while search engine algorithms seem to prefer keywords. This is an important preference that academics need to be aware of, especially since journals are mostly accessed this way.

Ahearn, L. (2013). Keywords as a Literacy Practice, in the History of Anthropological Theory. American Ethnologist, 40(1).

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