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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.

Roughton, R.E. (1987). Friends and Lovers. The Phenomenology of Desire in Shakespearean Comedy: By W. Thomas MacCary. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. 264 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 56:579-583.

(1987). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 56:579-583

Friends and Lovers. The Phenomenology of Desire in Shakespearean Comedy: By W. Thomas MacCary. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. 264 pp.

Review by:
Ralph E. Roughton

Norman Holland once remarked that "Psychoanalysis seem to take to Hamlet like kittens to a ball of yarn." We can extend that image to include the Shakespeare tragedies as a whole; but not so, the comedies. In one survey of Shakespeare scholarship during a fifteen-year period (1964-1978), every single play had been written about from a psychoanalytic perspective, but the tragedies were explored more than three times as frequently as the comedies. Prior to 1960, there was an even greater disparity. However, that appears to be changing. MacCary's book is one of several recent publications that indicate a renewed and more psychologically sophisticated interest in the comedies.

A professor of classical and comparative literature, Thomas MacCary has given us a book that is both concise and comprehensive, scholarly and readable.

[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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