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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.

Lewin, B.D. (1949). Child Psychiatry in the 1830's—Three Little Homocidal Monomaniacs. Psychoanal. St. Child, 4:489-493.

(1949). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 4:489-493

Child Psychiatry in the 1830's—Three Little Homocidal Monomaniacs

Bertram D. Lewin, M.D.

In the following observations we shall see two individuals, born with perverse inclinations and a bad character. As the inclinations and character were not corrected by education, at the earliest appearance of the passions, they overthrew the intelligence, misled the reason, and initiated a homocidal monomania.

A little girl was put out to nurse during 13 months, in the country two leagues from Paris. Then she was brought up by her grandmother, a very respectable and religious elderly woman. Some months ago, at the age of 7½ she was brought to Paris to be near her mother and father. The child is sad, does not play, laugh or weep. She persistently sits in a chair, with her arms folded, and if her mother turns her back, the child strikes her. She is being taught to read, sew and knit, but pays little heed to her instruction. Three feet, 8 inches, in height, she has light brown hair, black and alert eyes, and a turned up nose. Her mouth is small, her cheeks full and of good color; her physiognomy is pleasant and sensitive.

Since the age of 4, the child has practiced onanism with boys of 10 to 12 years of age. Her separation from the boys is the cause of her sadness. Unless constantly watched, she engages in the practice by herself. Her mother's care, her religious instruction, and the advice of her physician have not succeeded in triumphing over this disastrous habit.

[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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