I'm writing a paper on graphs. Personally, I've always disliked the vertices/edges terminology. I found it very confusing when I started working with graphs, and I much prefer the alternative names nodes and links respectively. These terms are used, but far less than vertices/edges, and it depends highly on the field. I think nodes/links is more intuitive (to a modern audience) and I would like to see people move to this convention.

Now, I have a habit of choosing less common conventions if I don't like the common ones, sometimes to my own detriment. On the other hand, if nobody ever bucks the trend, there's no chance of poor conventions ever improving.

So my question is, specifically, is it acceptable to use nodes/links, and would it give a reader/reviewer that immediate slight sense of distrust towards the paper? Are there fields where it would simply be unacceptable? My paper is somewhere in between practical computer science and machine learning, but I'd be interested in the unwritten rules of other fields as well.

As a secondary question (if you care to elaborate), how should these situations be judged in general? Is it ever smart go against the most common convention, just because you don't like the common way? Are there good heuristics for such decisions?

EDIT: I edited the question to make it a bit more subtle. The original phrasing suggested that I'd made up the nodes/links terminology myself, when it's more about choosing between a popular and an unpopular convention, rather than introducing a new one. Apologies for changing the question after answers have been given.

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    "I much prefer to call them nodes and links", "I have a habit of refusing to follow conventions", "get rid of all the poor choices made in the past". And the reviewers will have the habit of rejecting your papers, when you do not follow the norms of your discipline and to avoid publishing papers that instead of focusing on actual content are more interested in shaking the norm for feeding egos.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 17:52
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    "poor choices" Do you have any evidence that your choice is better? Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 18:11
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    @O.R.Mapper You can easily use the terms nodes and edges on a paper with no problem. The OP's problem is that he is considering that this is a big issue and that he is proving a point, whereas he should focus more on the paper's scientific content and how to reach its target audience, instead of a trying to fight the scientific "status quo" and waste his energy on silly things.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 19:42
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    Different terminology is prevalent in different communities. "Graph theory" people tend to prefer "vertices and edges", but "network science" people tend to prefer "nodes and links". Early 20th century topologists called them "points and lines". The definitions strongly suggest "things and pairs of things". You say potato, I say potato.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 21:07
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    You're right. "Nodes" and "links" is a way better nomenclature. "Vertices" and "edges" already have specific spatial/geometric meanings, and so the vast majority of people who've learned those terms in another context will be rightfully confused to discovered that an "edge" in graph theory is not actually a literal "edge" at all. The original names are simply really badly chosen and the community should work together to change the terms of art.
    – iono
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 18:24

3 Answers 3


Your Case

Candidly speaking, I really like your terminology better than the established terminology, and hope it catches on!

Because the convention is established, you should at least acknowledge it, perhaps as follows:

In this manuscript, we will refer to what are conventionally called vertices as nodes, and what are called edges we will call links. We believe that this terminology is superior to the conventional terminology because ... [briefly support your claim].

General Case

If you submit a paper with your own convention, acknowledge it and support it! Give a reason to convince your readers that your way is superior, but don't belabor the point. If the reviewers don't like it, they have an obligation to say so.

Bucking the convention without acknowledging it might make it look as though you aren't familiar with the convention (or even the field?) in a slight way. As you said, there might be an element of mistrust.

The wise reader/reviewer will be able to to sense the mistrust and ignore it. If they prefer the conventional terminology, they will be able to mentally replace your terms with their preferred terms. While this would certainly annoy some readers, it might please other readers—especially those less "set in their ways" (particularly those newer to the field).

Value of a Convention (generally speaking)

Conventions usually—but not always—become established for a reason: perhaps they better avoid confusion, say more for less, or they just express something "better" —compared to the alternatives. Certain terms and phrases can serve as quick aliases for larger issues, and following conventional terminology usually help prevent confusion or misunderstandings.

If you go against the convention, you ought to have a really good reason for doing so—one that outweighs your readers' annoyance and risk of confusion.

Of course, not all conventions are the best. There's often room to improve or replace them, though changing conventions is uphill work. If you feel your convention is better than the established convention, discuss it with those who are familiar with it to see if you can build support.


While my discussion has been primarily general, I suggest that you discuss this with several colleagues and collaborators whose opinions your respect. Perhaps there's a good reason to prefer "edges" and "vertices" over "links" and "nodes"?

If your terminology has the support of your peers, then—by all means—submit your paper with it. If your peers don't approve, then maybe you can introduce your terminology in more subtle ways (e.g. a footnote or parenthetical statement, or even in conversations with peers), but publish according to the established convention.

  • Lastly, every once in a while, there's a paper that comes out that presents a superior convention or (more often) disambiguates several competing terminologies that together are confusing, misleading or erroneous. These often have great merit. (For an example, see "Meaning of ionospheric Joule heating" by Vasyliūnas and Song (2005), here). Your case probably isn't worthy of its own paper...yet...unless you can find truly strong and compelling evidence that it is.
    – jvriesem
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 19:01

And what if the next author likes neither your terminology nor the previous one and decides to call these elements bars and joints? And then the next one goes for arms and knees?

I'm an electronic engineer: what if I decide that I don't like the terms resistance, capacitance and inductance, and I decide to use the terms opposance, tankance and springance?

Readers should not struggle to follow author's idiosyncrasies about terminology, the effort is already enough to understand the new concepts that are typically introduced in a paper. And recall that the first readers of your papers are the reviewers, and sometimes the reviewers complain for even more conventional terminologies. Moreover, if you are free to make your terminology choices, they have even more freedom in rejecting your paper.

Here is an example. As I said in the above, I'm an electronic engineer. However, due to the tradition of the field in which I work, most of my readers are physicists. When I write a paper, I typically use terms and symbols that are widely employed by the engineering community, and are even defined by standards. For at least three papers, the reviewers complained that I haven't used standard symbols or terms (standard for them). And so I had to reply with references to standards, literature etc. It's annoying, but at least I had references to provide, and eventually symbols and terms were accepted. What do you have to backup your choice of terminology?

I think it's more intuitive (to a modern audience) and it would be better if people adopted this convention

Aren't you generalizing too much?

we'll never get rid of all the poor choices made in the past.

Are you sure that there are so many poor choices?

So my question is, is it acceptable to use nodes/links?

I think not or, better, as I explained above, I think there is no sound reason to use nodes and links in place of the accepted terminology.

Is it ever smart go against convention, just because you don't like how things are done?

It is seldom smart, unless there are good scientific reasons or the existing terminology is really misleading, but before going against an established convention, you have to provide evidence that that convention is wrong or misleading. An example in this sense is that of relativistic mass, a term which was introduced at the beginning of the theory of relativity. In later years, however, the concept has been criticized [see e.g. Adler(1986)] and the term is now considered utterly misleading, and modern books on relativity avoid it altogether.

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    Lol... arms and knees... I've messed the body up! Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 19:38
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    I'm pretty sure that, if you used the term "springance", all other electrical engineers would find it so awesome that they'd call it springance, too. Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 22:10

You worry about two words you don't like. Your question does not even explain why you would think that "nodes" is a better choice than "vertex" (I find both perfectly understandable, and certainly can't see why you'd think that "vertex" and "edge" would be a "poor choice").

In other words, you're trying to fight a really small, unimportant battle. Save your argumentative powers for the things in your paper that really matter.

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