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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.

Tiebout, H.M. (1943). Sociology: Writers in Crisis. By Maxwell Geisman. (Houghton, Mifflin Company, New York; Secker and Warburg, London, 1942. Pp. ix + 299. Price, $3.00; 16s.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 24:93.

(1943). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 24:93

Sociology: Writers in Crisis. By Maxwell Geisman. (Houghton, Mifflin Company, New York; Secker and Warburg, London, 1942. Pp. ix + 299. Price, $3.00; 16s.)

Review by:
Harry M. Tiebout

For a long time it has been said that writers are influenced by their environment and in turn influence it. In Writers in Crisis Mr. Geisman shows this to be so. Taking the writings of six outstanding American authors of the past two decades, Lardner, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Wolff and Steinback, he uses the clinical evidence of their books as source material for reaching conclusions as to how these men as creative individuals reacted to the pressure of their lives. Guided by a point of view that has both a psycho-analytical and a socio-historical orientation, he picks his data with rare skill and then conveys in vivid yet convincing fashion his own interpretation of how each of these six have gone through successive emotional stages in the evolution of their reactions to the world about them. For the busy practising psychiatrist the book affords a quick and pleasant entry into the world of American letters of to-day. As a study of the problem of the flowering of genius, it is provocative and thought-inspiring to the student of the mind.

[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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