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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.

Piotrowski, Z.A. (1946). Linton, Ralph. The Cultural Background of Personality. [New York and London: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1945. Pp. XIX + 157. $1.50.. Psychoanal. Rev., 33(3):384-385.

(1946). Psychoanalytic Review, 33(3):384-385

Linton, Ralph. The Cultural Background of Personality. [New York and London: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1945. Pp. XIX + 157. $1.50.

Review by:
Z. A. Piotrowski

The purpose of this slender volume by a Columbia University professor of anthropology is to define the basic terms, to present the main generalizations well supported by wide and varied empirical data, and to formulate some important and unsolved problems of a new science. This new science is devoted to the dynamics of human behavior and has developed through the collaboration of various disciplines, notably anthropology, sociology and psychology (including psychoanalysis). The book is designed to facilitate the collaboration, by clarifying the concepts and issues. The point is made that none of the specific scientific disciplines is sufficient to solve the problems inherent in a study of the cultural background of personality. This point is documented by well chosen examples taken from experience. The author has achieved his purpose admirably. The book is written very clearly and concisely.

The definitions have been formulated to facilitate orientation and creative work in the new science, emerging from the use of various scientific techniques, developed independently of one another. Linton's clear and penetrating work eliminates many spurious disagreements and pseudo-problems. In his attempt the author “tried to follow the democratic principle of majority rule, basing my definitions and explanations upon those meanings on which there seems to be general agreement and ignoring minority usages…. The attempt has been to provide a sort of lingua franca or trade language on the basis of which the simpler ideas and factual knowledge of the three disciplines can be exchanged.”

[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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