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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.

Wangh, M. (1968). A Psychoanalytic Commentary on Shakespeare's 'The Tragedie of King Richard the Second'. Psychoanal Q., 37:212-238.

(1968). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 37:212-238

A Psychoanalytic Commentary on Shakespeare's 'The Tragedie of King Richard the Second'

Martin Wangh, M.D.

On June 19, 1962, The New York Times drama critic, reporting the opening of a performance of Richard II at the Stratford Festival, wrote:

As a literary precursor of Hamlet, its complex central character—introspective, mercurial, vain and charming—is one of Shakespeare's most intellectual and interesting. The part is also one of the most hazardous for an actor… Only with the most skillful supporting cast, subtle direction and an exquisite performance in the principal role can the play hold an audience more than fitfully… Richard's transformation from a regal despot to a nobly suffering monarch is a complicated thing to convey believably, and Mr… is not up to it.

Three months later, on September 20, we read, again in The New York Times:

Shakespeare Festival deposes Richard II: The fall student program at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut, has been cancelled. It was to start on Monday with Richard II and continue until October 20… Joseph Verner Reed, the Festival's executive producer, said that Richard II was a difficult play for students to understand and their teachers advised its cancellation.

[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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