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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.

Strachey, J. (1931). The Function of the Precipitating Factor in the Aetiology of the Neuroses: A Historical Note. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 12:326-330.

(1931). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 12:326-330

The Function of the Precipitating Factor in the Aetiology of the Neuroses: A Historical Note

James Strachey

The problem which we are to discuss this evening has dogged psycho-analysis from its very birth. It was dealt with by Breuer and Freud in their original contribution on the psychical mechanism of hysterical phenomena nearly forty years ago, and it has cropped up again and again in Freud's writings, either directly or by implication, down to the present time.

I should like to remind you, very shortly, of the main developments of his views in this connection. But I must first explain the sense in which I propose to use the words 'precipitating factors'. In cases in which the onset of a neurosis can be observed to occur at a particular time, two groups of ætiological factors can be separated, which may be described as the 'predisposing causes' and the 'precipitating causes', the latter being the causes determining the fact that the illness breaks out at that particular time rather than at any other. It is obvious that the importance and interest of studying precipitating causes will vary according to the magnitude and nature of the part they play beyond the mere determining of the time of the onset of the illness. Thus, to take a simile, supposing that the trunk of a tree has rotted almost through, so that a very slight pressure will knock the tree down. It will in fact be blown down at some particular moment by some particular gust of wind, and that gust will be the precipitating cause of the tree's falling; but the investigation of the gust would be of very little interest in the study of the diseases of trees. Now the view of the ætiology of hysteria taken by Charcot was precisely of this kind. For he believed that a hereditary predisposing cause was of governing importance in that disease, and consequently paid little attention to the precipitating factors. The Breuer and Freud view was in direct opposition; for according to them the precipitating factor—a psychical trauma—was actually decisive both for the disease and for the form it took. Nevertheless the predisposing causes were still present, the chief among them being the 'hypnoid state', which, as we now know, was Breuer's contribution to the theory.

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