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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.

Wangh, M. (1976). Underlying Motivations in Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author: a Psychoanalytic View. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 24:309-328.

(1976). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 24:309-328

Underlying Motivations in Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author: a Psychoanalytic View

Martin Wangh, M.D.

WHEN SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR opened in Rome on May 10, 1921, it had what might be called a succès de scandale: a near riot broke out between those in the audience who had admired the play and those who had hated it. The anti-Pirandellians were enfuriated by what they took to be deliberate, confusing nonsense. Criticism ran so high that, some four years later, Pirandello felt called upon to write a "preface" giving a post facto explanation of what he had intended to convey. There, he remarks on the inner resistance he felt against writing this drama. He solved the dilemma by making the resistance itself part of the play.

What was it about this play that provoked such intense feelings? Its complexity? Or was it that the audience felt constantly rebuffed in its desire to identify? Indeed, scarcely has one become caught up in the tragic story of the Characters than one is made to feel the absurdity of identifying with phantom personages who are not meant to be real, but merely in search of an author who will realize them. The more one becomes involved in the play, the more bewildering is the constant change of focus.

[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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