When listing keywords for a paper written in English, is it better to write keywords in singular or plural form?

I am interested in both keywords stored in meta-data:

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and keywords listed at the beginning of the paper:

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  • I think a keyword search of a relevant database (e.g., ArXiv or PubMed) might be helpful, – StrongBad Apr 11 '15 at 2:25

It doesn't really matter. Adopt the style that the journal or conference you are submitting to seems to prefer if there are no instructions given by the venue.

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Honestly, I think that keywords are now de facto irrelevant. The issue is this: when was the last time that you actually searched for a paper by keyword? In practice, literature discovery is now more typically done by means of modern search engines, which will generally disregard such minor distinctions as singular vs. plurals in any case.

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    I think that you are not really answering this question. – Enthusiastic Engineer Apr 11 '15 at 6:43
  • "searched for a paper by keyword" - if the keywords are contained in the full text of the paper (e.g. as a list right after the abstract), then every time I searched for a paper. While it is adviseable to stick to a uniform terminology throughout a paper, the list of keywords is the opportunity to mention synonyms for common concepts focused in the paper that would otherwise not appear in the text. – O. R. Mapper Apr 11 '15 at 11:48
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    @EnthusiasticStudent The answer is implicitly "It does not matter", which is a possible answer to "Should keywords be singular or plural?". – user9646 Apr 11 '15 at 14:16

I would recommend checking the thesaurus of a database that is likely to be searched for your discipline for relevant keywords and compare yours to the keywords indexed within that database to match your terms to an appropriate taxonomy. Singular or plural form is unlikely to matter, but listing phrases instead of breaking the keywords down to strict terms is unlikely to be useful to anyone at the publishing companies or managing your institutional repository that is converting the terms to a controlled vocabulary. Speak to a reference librarian for assistance locating a database thesaurus. Also, to the point above about the terms not mattering although this is true in disciplines with precise taxonomies which are mapped only to that discipline (as is often the case in computer science or engineering) many disciplines still use terminology that is not strictly mapped to their disciplines. In these instances controlled vocabularies (within the databases) remain relevant to resolve the ambiguity of terms from unrelated disciplines when searching.

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