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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. (1924). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Karl Abraham, January 4, 1924. The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham 1907-1925, 479.

Freud, S. (1924). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Karl Abraham, January 4, 1924. The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham 1907-1925, 479

Letter from Sigmund Freud to Karl Abraham, January 4, 1924 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud



Vienna IX, Berggasse 191
4 January 1924

Dear Friend,

I have left so many of your friendly letters unanswered that today I am virtually delighted to have to write you about a factual matter. Though there is nothing pleasing about the fact itself.

For the psychoanalytic fund cannot be counted on at the moment. Apart from the devalued Marks, it contains a little over 20 pounds, which I beg to keep strictly secret. I would gladly have stepped into the breach myself, but for half a year I have had only expenditure and no income.

Because of the numerous Christmas visitors from Berlin, I have heard and talked a great deal about you recently. I was delighted to hear only good things about you, so your optimism is at least not unfounded. I declined all Christmas visits that were meant for me personally with the motivation that you yourself give; only my son Oliver was with us here with his young wife. I did not wish to postpone further making the acquaintance of my new dear daughter.

I am by no means without any symptoms or released from treatment, but I resumed my analytic work on the 2nd of this month and hope to be able to manage.

With cordial greetings and New Year wishes to you and your dear family,



Notes to "Letter from Sigmund Freud to Karl Abraham, January 4, 1924"

1 Typewritten and hand-signed letter, evidently dictated to Anna, who used a more modern orthography than the one Freud was accustomed to using (e.g. zahlreich and Motivierung instead of zalreich and Motivirung). The typewriter could not reproduce the German double-s (“ψ”) and the Umlaute; the dots on the latter were inserted by hand.

[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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