Making research easier and smarter with semantic publishing technologies

Locating relevant articles

A common researcher complaint is that with so much published literature available, it can be difficult to locate relevant articles. Then there are concerns about evaluating papers, particularly due to the “use of different terms and definitions across sources and authors”.

In this article, we will look at some of the technology we have available to help, including our latest taxonomy EMMeT™. We also highlight the new Smart Collection Tool, which will make it possible to create topical collections of articles.

Using taxonomies to create some order in the information overload

Indexing journal articles to subject-specific taxonomies is a meaningful and controlled way to manage a body of knowledge. At Elsevier, we have developed our own proprietary taxonomies over many years, including the Engineering Index Thesaurus and our most recent initiative, EMMeT, the Elsevier Merged Medical Taxonomy. This latter ‘super-taxonomy’ creates greater value by integrating and expanding on existing, well-known taxonomies. It is managed by a team of clinical medicine informatics professionals who continue to tune the semantic engine and add new branches as medicine grows and expands.

Semantically enriching articles by text mining - and then mapping the concepts and entities described in the text to a hierarchical taxonomy - adds another layer of meaning to the raw article. This additional metadata can be used to tell computers and humans alike what the article is about, and how it relates to other content. The taxonomy can manage synonyms, abbreviations and variant spellings, which means that even if a researcher uses a search query that is not mentioned anywhere in the text, the article can be found if it is relevant to that query.

Adding value to articles by indexing to a taxonomy.

Putting semantically-enriched articles to work

Beyond improved search results, semantic metadata can be used to cluster articles by topic. This helps researchers click on a topic of interest and find all the articles indexed to that topic. Filters allow researchers to narrow the list down to sub topics, or adjacent topics.

Example of how users could navigate to articles by topic (note: illustrative only).

This type of topical navigation can save time and give researchers a quick overview of articles published in that topic area. The ability to further refine the list is important to hone in on the most relevant information. Elsevier is testing ways to let researchers select sub topic areas of interest and combine them to find articles on the crossover of disciplines, or in even more specific fields.

Creating topical collections of articles

Many journal editors have expressed a wish to present their journal articles online in ways other than by volume and issue. Although very important, the volume/issue navigation does not necessarily showcase the articles published in particular topic areas. Some topics are very timely, for example, the focus of a conference, or a new development in the field. Some are newsworthy. Some are particular strengths of a journal’s coverage. Elsevier has developed an editorial tool, called the Smart Collection Tool, which enables editors to quickly and easily define article collections for publication on journal websites. Currently, the Smart Collection Tool is available only for selected health and medical journal websites, but we are exploring its expansion to journals and websites in other areas.

Easy interface in the editorial ‘Smart Collection Tool’.

The Smart Collection Tool lets an editor search by ‘standard’ metadata fields such as full text, year, author and DOI, but in addition enables a search of articles indexed to concepts in taxonomies like EMMeT. The refinement possibilities are elegant and sophisticated, allowing an editor to expand a concept to select sub topics or related concepts, such as diseases that are treated by a particular procedure.


The tool helps editors define a very specific search query. Editors can set up the resulting article collection to either be automatically updated with any new article published that matches the query, or include a curation step to approve candidate articles for inclusion.

“We look forward to using the new collection tool for editors that Elsevier is planning,” said Dr. Craig Niederberger, Head of Urology at the University of Illinois, Co-Editor-in-Chief of Fertility & Sterility®, and Urological Survey Section Editor of The Journal of Urology®. “These semantic technologies are needed to assist editors in offering navigation and article collections organized around topics that are relevant to readers.”

Published topical collections help researchers quickly find the most relevant articles

Elsevier’s Health Advance journal websites are the first to deploy editorially-created collections from the Smart Collection Tool. Users are reporting that relevant articles are easier to find, and they can refer back to a collection page for new updates as well as set up an email alert.

Example of topical article collections live on the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology website.

ScienceDirect will soon offer access to the same collections, indicate when articles are part of one or more collections, and provide access to collection details. Again, we will start with EMMeT-indexed medical journals, while we explore how to extend the initiative to other subject domains.

Example of topical article collections live on the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology website.

We would like to hear your feedback on these developments, and your suggestions for other ways we can put semantic technologies to work for users. Please take a few moments to post your comments below.

Author biographies

Harriet BellHarriet Bell joined Elsevier in 1996, following graduation from the University of Oxford. Initially working in Marketing for publishing divisions in the Oxford office, she then moved to Amsterdam and was part of the team launching Scopus. After a short period working for digital advertising agencies and for Microsoft, Harriet rejoined Elsevier as Product Director for and then led product development for health journals. In her current role as Vice President of Journal & Data Solutions, she now leads the application of smart content technologies on Elsevier’s journal platforms from Elsevier’s London office.

Rolf KwakkelaarRolf Kwakkelaar initially joined Elsevier in 1996. Working out of the Tokyo and Singapore offices, he was responsible for IT consultancy. Subsequent to that, he was with Endeavor Chicago, where his last position was Director of Digital Library Projects. After a four-year stint at the Singapore National Library Board, he rejoined Elsevier in 2012. Based in New York, he now leads the Content Innovation and Article of the Future activities for the STM Journals’ Health and Medical Sciences portfolio in his role as Content Innovation Manager.

Archived comments

Dr. Ebrahim Jahanshiri says: October 28, 2014 at 7:22 am
It is really exciting for me to read this page. We are working on the under-utilized crops research. It will be really efficient for us to search the resources against a standard taxonomy like AGROVOC and Plant Ontology developed for plants and crops. Thank you

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