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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.

Pontalis, J.B. (1974). Freud in Paris. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 55:455-458.

(1974). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 55:455-458

Freud in Paris

J. B. Pontalis

It is not only hysterics who suffer from reminiscences …

Freud arrived in Paris on an October morning in 1885 and put up in a small hotel, half-way between the Panthéon and the Sorbonne. He was to live there for five months. It was to be a time of poverty, with only a grant to live on; of chastity, despite the contemporary cliché associating Paris with loose and easy living; and of isolation, as he wandered through a town that spoke a strange language, amidst disconcerting crowds and customs. At times he retreated for hours on end to the top of the towers of Notre Dame. He went to the theatre (Sarah Bernhardt, what a voice!) accompanied by a Russian doctor, a friend whom he met by chance. He wrote long letters to his fiancée, which alternated between dejection and exaltation.

What did he come to look for? Something new. He wanted—and I quote him—'to learn something new' which he said he could no longer expect of the German universities. This 29-year-old doctor, already a qualified neurologist and only recently appointed Privatdozent, came to Paris as one goes to a rendezvous to discover what one doesn't know and yet suspects, regarding one's vocation.

He knew who to turn to: Charcot. He had come to Paris because of him.

What a contrast between the two men! Charcot, in 1885, was at the height of his glory, a glory which we are hard put to imagine today since it coincided with a time when medical power was at its zenith. It was this same power that Charcot personified and exercised in every sphere.

[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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