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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.

Billings, R.A. (1934). The Negro and his Church: A Psychogenetic Study. Psychoanal. Rev., 21(4):425-441.

(1934). Psychoanalytic Review, 21(4):425-441

The Negro and his Church: A Psychogenetic Study

R. A. Billings

The particularly significant rôle which religion and church play in the life of the American Negro has often been presumed to be expressive of his inherent emotionalism. However, a closer study of the problem reveals that in his religious behavior, the American Negro is guided by general human motives, and rather than being expressive of any specific racial behavior it appears as an adaptive product of particular environmental forces to which he has been subjected since his residence in America. Any race that is handicapped by whatever social circumstances, turns to the most convenient way of adjusting itself to these handicaps. Religion seems to be the universal panacea for all the ills of the world; it is the plastic apparatus that always freely promised those things which the people desired or needed most but were lacking. The organized church is the material representative of a fancied power, capable of giving those things needed; consequently, the discussion of the religion of the Negro must take into consideration his church organization.

Negroes were first introduced to the New World Civilization when they were brought to America as slaves. As the property of their masters they were forced to do as bidden and the things they were taught soon became a part of them. It is almost impossible for a race in bondage to retain its own ways and customs when the ruling race sees fit to force its ways and customs upon it. Because of such conditions we find the Negroes quickly becoming Americanized. As time passed they learned to dress, to speak, and labor after the fashion of their masters. The religion of their masters, with its organized churches, soon displaced that of their homeland.

[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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