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Tip: Understanding Rank

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

When you do a search, you can sort the results bibliographically alphabetical or by “rank”. What is Rank?

Rank refers to the search engine’s “best guess” as to the relevance of the result to the search you specified. The exact method of ranking used varies a bit depending on the search. In its most basic level, when you specify a single search term, rank looks at the density of the matches for the word in the document, and how close to the beginning of the document they appear as a measure of importance to the paper’s topic. The documents with the most matches and where the term is deemed to have the most importance, have the highest “relevance” and are ranked first (presented first).

When you specify more than one term to appear anywhere in the article, the method is similar, but the search engine looks at how many of those terms appear, and how close together they appear, how close to the beginning of the document, and can even take into account the relative rarity of the search terms and their density in the retrieved file, where infrequent terms count more heavily than common terms.

To see a simple example of this, search for the words (not the phrase, so no quotes):

unconscious communications

Look at the density of matches in each document on the first page of the hits. Then go to the last page of matched documents, and observe the density of matches within the documents.

A more complex search illustrates this nicely with a single page and only 15 matches:

counter*tr* w/25 “liv* out” w/25 enact*

There are a lot of word forms and variants of the words (due to the * wildcards) above that can match, but the proximity (w/25) clause limits the potential for matching. What’s interesting here though is how easily you can see the match density decrease as you view down the short list.

The end result of selecting order by rank is that the search engine’s best “guess” as to which articles are more relevant appear higher on the list than less relevant articles.

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Marinelli, L. (2009). Dirty Gods: An Exhibition on Freud's Archaeological Collection. Am. Imago, 66(2):149-159.

(2009). American Imago, 66(2):149-159

Dirty Gods: An Exhibition on Freud's Archaeological Collection

Lydia Marinelli

Translated by:
Joy Titheridge

“Why are the figures placed at such a distance? They are what I came to see.”

—An exhibition visitor

Exhibitions exploring literature and theory are faced with a paradox: They attempt both to reveal that which defies visibility and at the same time to assign the often banal objects of the visible world a significance that will always remain extrinsic to them. This paradox is generally circumvented by making the author the subject of the exhibition, invoking the monographic illusion of the unity of life and work, which are seamlessly juxtaposed. Display cases gather a couple of illegible, handwritten manuscripts, a few yellowing photographs, a pipe; the accumulation of biographical material is used to shed light on literary or theoretical content, or vice versa. To put it negatively, the effrontery that texts represent in a visually oriented culture is palliated with biographically charged, visual “extras”; more positively, however, forms like this can effect a rehabilitation of literature.

The reading that emerges for the visitor from this translation into biographical/iconic material is unambigious. The unknown is translated directly into the known in the manner prescribed, and is largely divested of any element of surprise. The intended illustration risks the “stultification” described by Walter Benjamin in a 1928 conversation about exhibition technique: “For any illustration which lacks the moment of surprise must have a stultifying effect. What is there on display must never be the same—or simply more, or less—as the description given by the accompanying text, but it has to carry with it something new, a trick of evidence that can never be achieved with words” (qtd. in Tiedemann, Gödde, and Lonitz 1990, 7).

[This is a summary or excerpt from the full text of the book or article. The full text of the document is available to subscribers.]

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