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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.

Freud, S. (1919). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, May 12, 1919. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi Volume 2, 1914-1919, 354-355.

Freud, S. (1919). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, May 12, 1919. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi Volume 2, 1914-1919 , 354-355

Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, May 12, 1919 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

Vienna, May 12, 1919
IX., Berggasse 19

Dear friend,

I hear that a letter will arrive now and then, and so I am writing you on the off chance; for a long time I have been unable to keep up with what I have already told you. The ban is very bad; aside from the euphoric telephone reports that Rank is getting from the Journal, I have nothing from any of you and am totally at the mercy of my fantasy. I read something out of your last lines about Toni which I already had in mind at the beginning of this supposed relapse and which was since confirmed in a letter from Lajos of April 20, which arrived late. So I don't know how things have been going since, and since my own complaints, about which I wrote to you,1 are constantly increasing, I am figuring on not seeing him again. With this news on the 6th of the month, an inhibition in my up to then increased productivity set in. I had not only completed the draft of “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” which is being copied out for you, but I also took up the little thing about the “uncanny” again,2 and, with a simple-minded idea [Einfall], I attempted a Ψα foundation for group psychology.3 Now that should rest; I am also otherwise suffering from a vague grippe, while Martha has been in a fever for the third day with one just as classic.4

Rank has recovered and is proving his worth in all kinds of related functions which are removed from science. For now, we are very blissful with our fifth of the fund. Sachs is giving a course on ΨA before a good, paying audience and is, as always, an optimist. He doesn't write anything more about the Zurich Society. The publications of the Verlag are making progress: War Neuroses, your Hysteria, and my Everyday Life5 are finished, the former two could already be distributed.


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