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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.

Ferenczi, S. (1921). Letter from Sándor Ferenczi to Sigmund Freud, July 24, 1921. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi Volume 3, 1920-1933, 61-63.

Ferenczi, S. (1921). Letter from Sándor Ferenczi to Sigmund Freud, July 24, 1921. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi Volume 3, 1920-1933, 61-63

Letter from Sándor Ferenczi to Sigmund Freud, July 24, 1921 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sándor Ferenczi

Magyarorszagi Pszichoanalitikai EgyesüLet (Freud-Társaság)

Budapest, July 24, 1921

Dear Professor,

Now I would like to write you the long-heralded “intimate” letter. Unfortunately, I have enough material for it. We buried our mother, who died on Thursday morning after an indescribable death struggle, in Miskolcz on Friday. I was opposed to the transfer, but the rest of my brothers and sisters wanted to respect fully my mother's présumed wishes in this regard. Immediately after her death I had (after a dose of Adalin) the hypnagogic hallucination that at the burial, the coffin would fall out of the hearse and the corpse would tumble out of the coffin. Psychoanalytically seen, certainly an ambivalent fantasy: revenge up to the grave and the wish for her resurrection.—On the way to the cemetery (which is situated on a mountain), the coffin (in reality) was loaded onto a smaller car, but, because the coffin was large and was threatening to fall off, it had to be loaded onto the big car again. As the coffin was being lowered into the grave, the latter proved to be too narrow: the foot sank to the ground, but the head didn't, so that the coffin stood vertically. They had to work for an hour until the difficulty was removed.—The

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