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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.

Wilson, M. (2007). “Lonesome Suzie,” “We Can Talk,” and Lacan. Fort Da, 13(2):37-47.

(2007). Fort Da, 13(2):37-47

“Lonesome Suzie,” “We Can Talk,” and Lacan

Mitchell Wilson, M.D.

Richard Manuel hung himself early one morning in a blue-light, cheap hotel room in Florida in 1986. His death, unnoticed by many, was painful to some. A founding member of the rock group The Band — whose utterly fresh and uncannily time-worn songs of an old, weird America garnered the group great critical acclaim in the late 1960s and early 1970s — Manuel had run out of things to say, or couldn't say them anymore. He felt his time was up. For those who were moved, some to tears, at the news of his passing, it was Manuel's voice they remembered with a bittersweet fondness. Whether singing falsetto on Bob Dylan's “I Shall Be Released,” or a gritty tenor on “Shape I'm In,” Manuel couldn't help but convey a deep and painful wisdom about life as he seemed to feel it, as if it were all already gone, as if some aching loss was already fully felt. For others, it was his songwriting that would be missed. As a songwriter Manuel displayed a cunning wit, a wide range of thematic interests, and a penchant for odd rhythms and chord changes. And yet, Manuel had stopped writing songs by the time he was 25 or so, many years earlier. For those who missed his songwriting, they had been feeling the loss for a very long time. What had happened? Why had he stopped writing? Why had he stopped speaking?

We will never know the answers to these questions. What I hope to do in this relatively brief paper is to use Manuel not as a “case study” in a reified way (thereby pretending it is possible to plumb the biographical depths to extract the truth of his subjectivity).

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