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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.

Hubback, J. (1977). Obituary Notice. J. Anal. Psychol., 22(1):60-61.

(1977). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 22(1):60-61

Obituary Notice

Judith Hubback

Dr Angela Burns

Angela Hughesdon, who died on 15 February 1976, was the second of three gifted daughters, their father being an inventive engineer and their mother having been a student at the Slade School of Art, and a suffragette. They grew up in a country environment. The youngest (Dr Camilla Bosanquet), speaking of their childhood said, after Angela's death: ‘I was enormously proud of her … and jealous … and we fought and it was alive and it was good’. Angela knew well the value of being energetic, ambitious even, but also quietly creative and versatile, both in professional fields and in personal life. She was, I think, an intuitive person, who valued beauty highly and who enjoyed painting.

My friendship with Angela goes back to the mid 1930's, when Cambridge brought us together in a large circle of undergraduates. Angela stood out as really able and as seeming to work very easily. She was free from any anxious need to sharpen her mind, probably because she was a straightforward person, confident and uncompetitive. She took her degree with first class honours in natural sciences as a preliminary to medicine at University College Hospital, where she gained, with a scholarship, one of the four places available then to women. She played lacrosse for Cambridge, and the viola. She took part in university politics where there was at that time a particularly strong wish to keep the issues simple: good versus bad. But her desire to become a doctor was based on a more liberal breadth of humanity which was unsentimental, intelligent and generous.

[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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