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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.

Kurth, G.M. (1954). Introduction to Experimental Method. For Psychology and the Social Sciences: By John C. Townsend, Ph.D. New York, Toronto, London: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1953. 220 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 23:289.

(1954). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 23:289

Introduction to Experimental Method. For Psychology and the Social Sciences: By John C. Townsend, Ph.D. New York, Toronto, London: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1953. 220 pp.

Review by:
Gertrud M. Kurth

This book is precisely what its title promises. It offers an introductory discussion of the fundamentals of experimentation, followed by a clear exposition of methods and apparatus, and supplemented by references to more detailed and advanced reading matter for those interested in specific research. Two features are particularly commendable: first, the comments on the advantages and pitfalls inherent in the various types of experimental methods; second, the skilful and concise manner in which the essential interdependence of experimental and statistical methods is clarified. The appended tables are useful and well selected. It should be pointed out, however, that the author does not entirely escape some of the sins he warns against. He states that 'psychoanalytic theory is built upon nontestable hypotheses', and quotes a 'psychoanalytic study' in which a cat's attempts to crawl into a drain spout are interpreted as a 'death wish'. The former statement seems to constitute an overinclusive generalization, the latter unrepresentative sampling. Nevertheless, this text by virtue of its lucid presentation may be recommended.

[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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