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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.

Andreas-Salomé, L. (1915). Letter from Lou Andreas-Salomé to Freud, November 7, 1915. The International Psycho-Analytical Library, 89:33-34.

(1915). The International Psycho-Analytical Library, 89:33-34

Letter from Lou Andreas-Salomé to Freud, November 7, 1915 Book Information Previous Up Next

Lou Andreas-Salomé

Göttingen, 7 Nov. 1915

Dear Professor,

May a bullet through the cap and a grazed arm remain the only misfortunes to befall your eldest son, and may your second son, who was just setting off when you wrote to me from Karlsbad, be spared all misfortunes. Though I have not written since sending you my little note of thanks, I have often thought of you and your family—where, as your youngest child put it so splendidly, she alone has ‘to make do for six’.

I am right in thinking, am I not, that the book announced by you will come out before the individual sections have all appeared in the Journal, since this would take a long time in these days? In the last number I read ‘Repression55 only with severe repression of my desire for further instalments! It was, however, precisely this section which preoccupied me and haunted me most. It is a pleasure to see how these things grow ever richer when you take them up afresh; just as on the other hand old works of yours become richer for me, because I am more mature now than I was at the outset, when I understood them only in broad outline.

[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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