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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.

Schmukler, A.G. (1989). American Imago. XLIII, 1986: Fig Leaf, Pudica, Nudity, and Other Revealing Concealments. Seymour Howard. Pp. 289-293.. Psychoanal Q., 58:177.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: American Imago. XLIII, 1986: Fig Leaf, Pudica, Nudity, and Other Revealing Concealments. Seymour Howard. Pp. 289-293.

(1989). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 58:177

American Imago. XLIII, 1986: Fig Leaf, Pudica, Nudity, and Other Revealing Concealments. Seymour Howard. Pp. 289-293.

Anita G. Schmukler

A cartoon from the World War II ear depicted two GI's staring through binoculars at a nude woman on a beach. The caption was, "Wouldn't she look great in a sweater!" The author addresses our "cloaking the charged generative centers of our bodies" and the sometimes subtle associated symbolism. Unconscious conflicts are clearly expressed in such "concealments," which the author presents in historical and mythological perspective. The implication is that symbolic components of genital coverings have significant import for all clothing. This brings to mind Anatole France's notion that he had learned more about another civilization from a perusal of its fashion magazines than from an entire array of historical, political, and sociological writings.

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Article Citation

Schmukler, A.G. (1989). American Imago. XLIII, 1986. Psychoanal. Q., 58:177

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