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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.

Ferenczi, S. (1915). Letter from Sándor Ferenczi to Sigmund Freud, July 15, 1915. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi Volume 2, 1914-1919, 66-68.

Ferenczi, S. (1915). Letter from Sándor Ferenczi to Sigmund Freud, July 15, 1915. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi Volume 2, 1914-1919 , 66-68

Letter from Sándor Ferenczi to Sigmund Freud, July 15, 1915 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sándor Ferenczi

Pápa, July 15, 1915

Dear Professor,

Let us hope you will still receive this letter in Vienna, so that I can still wish you a pleasant trip.

The personal news and reports about your family (with the exception of your headaches, for which you really should go to my friend Neumann),1 have gratified me very much. Your Annerl's cleverness is becoming more and more worthy of respect; Oli will certainly build his way in life properly and diligently—as befits an engineer. Congratulate him in my name as well. The news about your sons Martin and Ernst (I mean the real, not the prophetic) is also gratifying.

I must tell you about the following remarkable coincidence:

At 11 o'clock on the evening of the 13th I told my new friend how remarkable it is that Nordic writers (especially Knut Hamsun2 and Selma Lagerlöf3) have such an excellent understanding of dementia praecox. I also said that it struck me that in the Zurich mental hospitals dementia praecox was so much more prevalent that in Hungarian ones. This illness is evidently the natural condition, as it were, of Nordic man, who has not yet completely overcome the last period of the Ice Age. I also reminded him of the peculiarly “magical” effect of the North in contrast to the magnificence of the South.—Naturally I then pursued the subject in the direction with which I am familiar, and looked for connections to the hibernation of animals; sleep and dementia praecox are certainly closely related to each other.

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