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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. (1925). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, August 14, 1925. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi Volume 3, 1920-1933, 222-224.

Freud, S. (1925). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, August 14, 1925. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi Volume 3, 1920-1933, 222-224

Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, August 14, 1925 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

Semmering, August 14, 1925

Dear friend,

I am writing to you today on a quiet evening. Anna went to Ischl early in the morning to greet her grandmother a few days before her 90th birthday,1 and I want to have her and Lou, who in the meantime has arrived in Vienna, brought here tomorrow by car from Vienna. At night there was a railway accident on the line on which she is supposed to travel, so I—as a protection—lost my pince-nez with case as I was bending over in the woods. I would have to go back to the studio once again anyway, for, after an excellent week, there was again a bad one; the beast of a prosthesis is probably not sitting firmly enough.

Actually, the whole time I owed you a letter, which didn't come into being in my comfortable idleness. You see, my nephew Edward Bernays—but now it occurs to me, that is cheating; he was here long before you, and I told you myself about the acceptance of your name into the committee for the supposed American fund.2 So, the truth will be that I am pressed to write you because you praised both of my last works so, which, as is well known, is felt to be very beneficial in the midst of inner doubt, especially after previously reading some invective. I am naturally referring to the statements in your letter which arrived today.

My idleness here can be compared with the Russian form of government—an absolutism moderated by treacherous assassination—, for I have almost completed a third, larger work here, which will probably appear as an independent pamphlet.

[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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