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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. (1909). Letter from Sigmund Freud to C. G. Jung, April 16, 1909. The Freud/Jung Letters: The Correspondence Between Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung, 218-220.

Freud, S. (1909). Letter from Sigmund Freud to C. G. Jung, April 16, 1909. The Freud/Jung Letters: The Correspondence Between Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung, 218-220

Letter from Sigmund Freud to C. G. Jung, April 16, 1909 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

139 F

16 April 1909,1 Vienna, IX. Berggasse 19

Dear friend,

I hope this letter doesn't reach you for a while. I'm sure you see what I mean. I simply prefer to write now while the feelings aroused by your last letter are still fresh.

I wrote your wife a card from Venice, where I went on an Easter trip in the vain hope of getting a foretaste of spring and a little rest. I thought you were already bicycling in northern Italy.

It is strange that on the very same evening when I formally adopted you as eldest son and anointed you—in partibus infidelium2—as my successor and crown prince, you should have divested me of my paternal dignity, which divesting seems to have given you as much pleasure as I, on the contrary, derived from the investiture of your person. Now I am afraid of falling back into the father role with you if I tell you how I feel about the poltergeist business. But I must, because my attitude is not what you might otherwise think. I don't deny that your stories and your experiment made a deep impression on me. I decided to continue my observations after you left, and here are the results. In my first room there is constant creaking where the two heavy Egyptian steles rest on the oaken boards of the bookshelves. That is too easy to explain. In the second, where we heard it, there is seldom any creaking. At first I was inclined to accept this as proof, if the sound that was so frequent while you were here were not heard again after your departure—but since then I have heard it repeatedly, not, however, in connection with my thoughts and never when I am thinking about you or this particular problem of yours. (And not at the present moment, I add by way of a challenge.) But this observation was soon discredited by another consideration. My credulity, or at least my willingness to believe, vanished with the magic of your personal presence; once again, for some inward reasons that I can't put my finger on, it strikes me as quite unlikely that such phenomena should exist; I confront the despiritualized furniture as the poet confronted undeified Nature after the gods of Greece had passed away.3

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