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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. (1920). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, June 17, 1920. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi Volume 3, 1920-1933, 28-30.

Freud, S. (1920). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, June 17, 1920. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi Volume 3, 1920-1933, 28-30

Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, June 17, 1920 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

Vienna, June 17, 1920
IX., Berggasse 19

Dear friend,

For a long time I haven't got to work any more before my epistolary duties,1 and in these last two weeks I didn't get to writing letters either. Ernst was here with his wife, Lux, who won everyone's heart, and didn't leave until day before yesterday. Yesterday was the last Society session, discussion about Jaspers's well-known work,2 international audience, Demol (Geneva),3 v. Wyss (Zurich),4 a young Dutchman, a doctor from Australia, Frau Dr. Kempner from Rheinau,5 who deferred Sachs very well over the summer, etc. After a nine-hour torment I was still able to give a philosophic-critical lecture.

So I can only tell you today how much your communications interested me. First, I congratulate you on the public honor which has been done you, but which will, let us hope, not touch you very much.6 Then, I am pleased about the favorable turn in your personal affairs and ask you to give your dear wife cordial greetings from me.

Unfortunately, I won't come to Aussee; Anna is going to Rie's for a few weeks. You will certainly still get to enter the country. On July 30 I am going to Gastein with Minna, and at the end of August with Anna to Holland by way of Berlin—Hamburg. It will cost a fortune.7

Don't let yourself resolve to take Sokolnicka along on vacation. She has always been repugnant to me, despite undeniable talent. Her ψ analysis seems quite excellent to me; the therapeutic prospects should be good, for you know that she always held onto her men, not out of love but rather out of unsatisfied anger, and you gave her the possibility of finally getting this affect out.

[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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