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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.

(2001). Editorial. Free Associations, 8(3):367.

(2001). Free Associations, 8(3):367

Editorial

This is the last issue of Free Associations for which Paul Gordon has been the Managing Editor. For several years he has not only been responsible for all of the administrative tasks and liaison with the production process, but he has also played a central role in shaping the journal's contents and approach. It is through him that many of the more interesting and adventurous contents have come to the journal.

I am more grateful to him than I can convey, and I also want to thank him on behalf of the editorial board and the journal's subscribers and other readers. Only people who have been closely involved with the editorial and production process of a periodical can fully appreciate how demanding and often tedious a managing editor's job is. It is an understatement to say that he has done his stint.

The new Managing Editor is Em Farrell.

Submissions should in future be sent to her at 26 Freegrove Road, London N7 9RQ.

Email: emfreegrove@aol.com

Tel:

[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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