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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.

Richards, A.D. Goodman, S.M. (2004). Jacob A. Arlow (1912-2004). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(6):1513-1518.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(6):1513-1518

Jacob A. Arlow (1912-2004)

Arnold D. Richards and Sheldon M. Goodman

Jacob Arlow, one of the most respected and admired contributors to psychoanalysis, was born in Brooklyn on 3 September 1912. One of three children and a first-generation American, he took pride in his combined modern secular and traditional Jewish education. He often spoke with great fondness of his large and loving extended family. He spoke, with that uniquely Jack Arlow grin of his, of his mother as ‘illiterate’ in three languages. She was one of the founders of The Pride of Judea Children's Home. His father, who ran a millinery business, always encouraged his son's intellectual interests. Jacob was an avid reader; as a child the days he had to stay home sick were a pleasure for the scholar-to-be, since they gave him the opportunity to read without interruption.

As he talked with both of us, in a lively banter, about his early life, he was always ready to acknowledge his weaknesses. When he applied at the age of 16 for admission to Columbia College, he included on his application a long list of the books he had devoured, including works by Sigmund Freud and William James. In fact, he had as yet not got to James, but, as his luck would have it, James was the author his interviewer quizzed him on. His application was deferred; he was told to apply again the following year. But Jack decided he could not wait a year to start college, so he enrolled at New York University (NYU). He was proud of the fact that, although he attended what was then considered an ‘inferior’ school, he still was able to reach the top of his profession and do as well as colleagues who graduated from more prestigious schools.

[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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