Google Scholar is certainly one of the simplest and fastest research tools available. When you’ve whacked in your keywords into Google Scholar and hit the magnifying glass search button, you typically end up with thousands if not millions of results. These are ordered by a ranking algorithm which ‘aims to rank documents the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature’ (cf. Google Scholar_About). Whatever this means exactly, it seems clear from using Scholar that the mysterious algorithm puts most weight on citation counts and words included in a document’s title.
However, there are alternative and more flexible tools at one’s disposal. For instance, EBSCO Discovery Service (as found on the CEU Library website), has a more structured and transparent relevance ranking process. According to their website, results are ranked according to the number of times your search terms appear in a document or the “cataloguing information” accompanying it. To this end, EBSCO has six ranked fields in which your search terms might be matched – subject heading, title, author-supplied keywords, abstract, authors, full-text. Based on these metadata, you can literally build your own personal research algorithm! And you ever wondered why people deem Google Scholar ‘hard and fast’.