This work proposes an advanced key-variable selecting method, the neural-network-based stepwise selection (NN-based SS) method, which can enhance the conjecture accuracy of the NN-based virtual metrology (VM) algorithms. Multi-regression-based (MR-based) SS method is widely applied in dealing with key-variable selecting problems despite that it may not guarantee finding the best model based on its selected variables. However, the variables selected by MR-based SS may be adopted as the initial set of variables for the proposed NN-based SS to reduce the SS process time. The backward elimination and forward selection procedures of the proposed NN-based SS are both performed by the designated NN algorithm used for VM conjecturing. Therefore, the key variables selected by NN-based SS will be more suitable for the said NN-based VM algorithm as far as conjecture accuracy is concerned. The etching process of semiconductor manufacturing is used as the illustrative example to test and verify the VM conjecture accuracy. One-hidden-layered back-propagation neural networks (BPNN-I) are adopted for establishing the NN models used in the NN-based SS method and the VMconjecture models. Test results show that the NN model created by the selected variables of NN-based SS can achieve better conjecture accuracy than that of MR-based SS. Simple recurrent neural networks (SRNN) are also tested and proved to be able to achieve similar results as those of BPNN-I.