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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, November 28, 1920. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi Volume 3, 1920-1933, 39-40.

Freud, S. (1920). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, November 28, 1920. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi Volume 3, 1920-1933, 39-40

Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, November 28, 1920 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

Vienna, November 28, 1920
IX., Berggasse 19

Dear friend,

Lajos has informed me as much about the state of your health as has become clear to him, and in so doing has certainly reassured me. I see that it is the same as it was years ago, and I understand it just as little as I did then. No doubt you are working it out hypochondriacally, strong suspicion that you have some real nucleus or other.

Your work and the conditions in your city certainly play a part in the causation. It is in any event very sensible of you to limit yourself to seven hours. I wish I could do it, too.

My apparent lack of participation has to do with the fact that I now write no letters at all during the week. The six hours of English a day make me so tired that in the evening I am of no use for anything more. At the same time, nose and throat are still tormenting me, the “smoking cure,” which I apply in a thoroughgoing manner, is of no use this time. My bladder is also reacting terribly to the prevailing cold. But otherwise I am healthy and am resisting the annoyances.

If you want to send me more precise data about place and time, give us also the possibility of participating in your mother's 80th birthday by means of a telegraphic greeting. My mother is between 85 and 86, which not infrequently causes me concern. It is incautious to get so old. To go over to the other side: in March Martin is expecting a son, the way it should be after wartime.1

If it amuses me, I can count myself as rich. In consequence of the worth-lessness of the crown, I now possess 2.4 million. So, I am a millionaire, but I didn't come to the million, it came down to me. In reality, my worth amounts to about a quarter of what it was before the war. It happens that I work hard for a whole week in order at the end to be poorer than before, because in the meantime a decrease has taken place in the value of the foreign currencies. Others are doing much worse here.

Rank had the happy idea of suggesting to you that you should spend the days before Christmas here. Qu'en pensez-vous? It will, of course, not be as nice as it was that time in Brioni, but it would still be something.

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