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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.

Ostow, M. (1977). Letter to the Editor. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 4:377-377.

(1977). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 4:377-377

Letter to the Editor

Mortimer Ostow


It has come to my attention that in catalogue No. 608 of the autograph auction house J. A. Stargardt, of Marburg, Germany, 27 holographs of C. G. Jung were offered for sale. They were letters and cards written to a former student of his, Wolfgang Kranefeldt, one of the founders of the Berlin Institute of Psychotherapy.

Among the excerpts from Jung's letters published in the catalogue, the one of 9 February 1934 impresses me as important enough to be brought to your attention. Jung wrote as follows:

… As is known, one cannot do anything against stupidity, but in this instance the Aryan people can point out that with Freud and Adler, specific Jewish points of view are publicly preached and, as can be proved likewise, points of view that have an essentially corrosive character. If the proclamation of this Jewish gospel is agreeable to the government, then so be it. Otherwise, there is also the possibility that this would not be agreeable to the government …

(… Gegen die Dummheit kann man bekanntlich nichts tun, aber in diesem Falle köonnen die arischem Leute darauf hinweisen, dass mit Freud und Adler spezifisch jüdische Gesichtspunkte öffentlich gepredigt werden und zwar, wie man ebenfalls nachweisen kann, Gesichtspunkte, welche einen wesentlich zersetzenden Character haben. Wenn die Verkündigung dieser jüdischen Evangelien der Regierung angenehm ist, so ist es halt eben so. Andernfalls ist ja auch die Möglichkeit vorhanden, dass dies der Regierung nicht angenehm wäre …)

Ellenberger in The Discovery of the Unconscious (pp.

[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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