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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.

Erikson, E.H. (1945). Childhood and Tradition in Two American Indian Tribes—A Comparative Abstract, with Conclusions. Psychoanal. St. Child, 1:319-350.

(1945). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 1:319-350


Childhood and Tradition in Two American Indian Tribes—A Comparative Abstract, with Conclusions

Erik Homburger Erikson


Some years ago the writer, a psychoanalyst then studying infantile neuroses, had the double good fortune of accompanying the anthropologist H. Scudder Mekeel to a Sioux reservation on the Plains, and of visiting with A. L. Kroeber some Yurok Indians on the Pacific coast.

The original conditions and cultural systems of these two tribes differed strikingly. The Sioux were belligerent nomads, roaming the North Central plains in loosely organized groups, pursuing "dark masses of buffalo". Their economic life was dominated by the conviction that "you can't take it with you"—either here or there. Their possessions were few and changed hands readily. Generosity and fortitude were their cardinal virtues. The Yurok, on the other hand, lived in a narrow, densely wooded river valley which steeply descends into the Pacific. They were peaceful and sedentary, gathering acorns, fishing, and preparing themselves spiritually for the annual miracle of the salmon run, when an abundance of fish enters and ascends their river, coming like a gift from nowhere beyond the ocean. They owned real estate along the river, considered that to be virtuous which led to the storage of wealth, and gave monetary value to every named item in their small world.

A. L. Kroeber has written of the anthropology of the Yurok, H. S. Mekeel and others, that of the Sioux.

[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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