News and information useful to Cleveland-Marshall College of Law students, faculty and staff.

Archive for September 25th, 2018

Different Results from Different Databases

The statement ‘different search engines and databases produce different results’ may elicit various responses from people. Some may think that the statement is obviously true, some may believe search engines are all basically the same, and some may believe that you get what you pay for.

For law students who have routinely relied on Google searching, this article may be especially important. Habits learned in undergraduate coursework may not translate well to law school research. Google and the big-box searches on Westlaw and Lexis are run by algorithms, not by the user. While the algorithms use what the researcher inputs, how they come up with the results is not necessarily clear. Furthermore, the algorithms being proprietary to each database will be different depending on which database the researcher is using.

A recent ABA Journal article titled Results May Vary in Legal Research Databases investigates different databases and crunches some numbers regarding relevant results. The article looks at Westlaw, Lexis, Ravel, Google Scholar, Casetext, and Fastcase and compares relevant and unique cases. An important point for the researcher or student to internalize is that not every case was appearing in each database. While the reader should review the article for the particulars, researchers should take away a few key points from the study:

  • Every algorithm is different.
  • Every database has a point of view.
  • The variability in search results requires researchers to go beyond keyword searching.
  • Keyword searching is just one way to enter a research universe.
  • Redundancy in searching is still of paramount importance.
  • Term and connector searching is still a necessary research skill.