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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. (1904). Letter from Freud to Fliess, April 26, 1904. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, 460-462.

Freud, S. (1904). Letter from Freud to Fliess, April 26, 1904. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, 460-462

Letter from Freud to Fliess, April 26, 1904 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

April 26, 19041

Dear Wilhelm:2

If I am writing to you again after such a long interval, you surely will assume that I am prompted not by an emotional impulse but by a practical motive. And so it is. I should like for us to hear about each other again in the following way: several competent young physicians who — I do not want to be secretive with you — belong to the circle of my pupils plan in the near future to attempt publication of a scientific journal that will be devoted to the “biological and psychological exploration of sexuality.” They will ask you to collaborate, and, anticipating them, I should like to ask you not to deny them your name and your contributions. They believe the time is right, because everywhere the signs of agreement with my views are increasing. I recently found an absolutely stunning recognition of my point of view in a book review in the Münchener medizinische Wochenschrift3 by an official psychiatrist, Bleuler, in Zurich. Just imagine, a full professor of psychiatry and my † † †4 studies of hysteria and the dream, which so far have been labeled disgusting! It now no longer seems impossible that I shall myself still witness part of the change. I have never doubted the posthumous victory.

You must have received a work by Dr. Swoboda,5 of which I am in more than one respect the intellectual originator, though I would not want to be its author. Type: Gattel.6 But I believe that I am beginning to have better student material at my disposal.

[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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