The topics that have been in my research focus recently have problems with consistent naming and terminology through time and papers, so I might perceive it as a greater problem than I would normally, but still. I am a PhD in Computer Science, Image Analysis -- so while there's a lot of standard terminology, a lot of state-of-the-art terminology has not settled on unique names yet.

Until now, at least all the papers made by the same author/research group/under the same adviser (same last author) I've read have been consistent in their terminology (at least the one describing their main contribution). But, the latest article from an interesting author has changed his own terminology on purpose (he says so explicitly himself).

What would be a good reason for terminology change within the scope of one's own work? It's not merging work with somebody -- in fact, the article I'm talking about is the first standalone work from that author after publishing with an adviser during PhD. From my point of view, it just makes it less findable: the key words changed, which might in turn cause less people to read it and in the end cite it. How can this be beneficial?

EDIT I am actually interested in a general set of guidelines for when changing one's own terminology might be beneficial, but let me add the details of the case that inspired the question. It's the terminology to describe a data structure constructed for an image:

  1. In the first 4-5 publications (during the PhD, before publishing the thesis), the terminology was new, the name was suggestive and conforming to the other terminology from the same filed, but still different than other data structures with similar purpose and of similar format.

  2. The latest publication (1 author only) takes over some terminology from a related work, and introduces ambiguity. That terminology was first used to regard components of a similar, but still different data structure. No attempt was made to prove that those similar structures were equivalent (and I think they're not -- still didn't get around to proving that). A new term was created, derived from the terms for components.

    Now to me a stronger suggestion is that similar but different data structure used as a basis for terminology, rather than what it was actually meant to describe.

1 Answer 1


I also admit to doing this. The reason was twofold. Firstly, the old terminology clashed with existing terminology for concepts that I also needed, and secondly, the new terminology better reflected the concept that I was studying. It is also difficult coming up with a name for something when you invent it. But concepts need names.

There are obvious pitfalls to this approach, such as making papers harder to read. It is beneficial in the long run, because the accepted terminology (assuming that the newer terminology becomes the accepted terminology) does not clash with other terminology I need to use.


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