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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.

Westerman-Holstijn, J. (1922). From the Analysis of a Patient with Cramp of the Spinal Accessory. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 3:139-153.

(1922). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 3:139-153

From the Analysis of a Patient with Cramp of the Spinal Accessory

J. Westerman-Holstijn

At the beginning of June 1920 a baker's assistant aged forty-three came to me for treatment on account of a torticollis tic from which he had been suffering for about three years. It had at first caused him but little inconvenience, but had become very much worse in consequence of several emotional experiences. The man now displayed an almost continual tonic cramp in the muscles innervated by the spinal accessory nerve, which only occasionally ceased for a moment. Only during sleep was he undisturbed. At the same time he suffered from a number of other tics in his hands: he smelt at his thumbs, held his hand before his eyes, lifted up the lapels of his coat, etc. He had at first intended these tics as para-tics (in the sense of a patient of Meige's): if he merely raised his hand to his face he could overcome the torticollis. But now they continued in a compulsive way without his being able to exercise the slightest influence on them. He had been forced to give up his work, which was to take round bread in a baker's cart, because he could no longer push the cart. He could not look straight up the road because his head was absolutely askew, and as he continually held one hand up to his face he had to push the cart along with the other hand alone which was only possible for a short time. During the treatment it soon became evident that there were a number of other symptoms.

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