I have created a bib database of maths textbooks, articles, notes etc. and I want to use JabRef to assign keywords to each entry to take advantage of the file management functionality which would result.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has done this already, either with JabRef or a similar package. How did you strike a balance between too few and too many keywords?

Two extreme approaches I have in mind are:

  1. More or less sticking to top level AMS MSC or a similar classification scheme.
  2. Harvesting contents pages and indexes for keywords.
  • 1
    maybe it's just me, but this seems too open ended, subjective, and probably depends on your particular research area. what kind of advice are you expecting? Aug 3, 2010 at 21:29
  • @Juan: I appreciate what you are saying. I was hoping to hear that someone has done this and has useable setup that did not involve too much pain, by which I mean a minimal number of keywords per entry (say at most 6) without sacrificing granularity.
    – Colin Pratt
    Aug 3, 2010 at 21:50

1 Answer 1


I'm using (a slightly modified version of) RefBase to organise my references these days and that allows me to add keywords and to group references. I've just started using instiki as a place to take notes on these references and that allows me to add "categories" to the pages, which is somewhat akin to keywords, I guess.

Since most of the stuff I index already has MSC and/or arXiv classification (I'm a mathematician), adding my own keywords based on those seems a little pointless. The scheme I'm currently using is to add keywords based on the paper or idea I was working on when I looked for that reference. Sometimes if a couple of papers are very closely related then I might use the same keyword for both (usually the name of the first paper). So corresponding to a couple of my papers, I have articles tagged "hopf" and "comparative smootheology". If I don't have an actual paper, I'll still try to tag them by the answer to the question "What was I thinking about when I went looking for this?". So I have papers tagged "loop spaces", even though that covers a wide spectrum of my work. Lastly, I read the "new on the arXiv" and have a way of automatically importing references from that into my database; these, therefore, aren't articles that I've gone looking for so I tag them by the first connection that came into my head when I read the abstract. So, in summary, when trying to tag an article I'll ask (in order):

  1. What article was I working on?
  2. What topic was I thinking about?
  3. What (of the above two) does it most remind me of?
  • Thanks Andrew, that sounds like a nice setup. From what you've said I think a few keywords akin to top level MSC may be way to proceed. Thereafter, whenever I make use of a resource I'll add keywords that reflect the reasons I checked out that resourse. Also, I'll be sure to add keywords to new items when they're added to my database. Now to retrospectively tag existing items...
    – Colin Pratt
    Aug 4, 2010 at 10:58
  • @Colin Pratt: Re your last sentence: I feel your pain! My database was about 1,500 before I shifted to RefBase and could start adding keywords - plus I have a fair few duplicates to weed out. Need a very rainy day. Aug 4, 2010 at 11:04

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