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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.

Healy, W. (1943). Young People in the Courts of New York State: Albany: Legislative Document No. 55, 1942.. Psychoanal Q., 12:422-423.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:422-423

Young People in the Courts of New York State: Albany: Legislative Document No. 55, 1942.

Review by:
William Healy

This is a final public report of the Joint Legislative Committee to 'examine into, investigate and study the existing facilities for the care and treatment of children'. This committee has been in existence for five years and has, from time to time, submitted drafts of enactments, none of which have been ratified by the legislature. This report of three hundred pages is a hodge-podge of previously submitted proposals and new recommendations. There is also a review of the present state of affairs regarding the treatment of young offenders in New York State and elsewhere which contains some extremely valuable information mixed with much else. There are many overlapping considerations, such as the extension of the juvenile court age and the enactment of new laws to take offenders above sixteen out of the juvenile court jurisdiction. The value of special courts for youths is emphasized. The section on The Adolescent contains very poorly digested material concerning the emotional life of that period. Critical readers will recognize that this report was written to order by Mr. B. S. Alper, Research Director to the Committee. Our guess is that if he had not been compelled to follow along the lines laid down by the committee he would have produced a very different document.

[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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