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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.

Freud, S. (1916). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, July 31, 1916. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi Volume 2, 1914-1919, 136-137.

Freud, S. (1916). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, July 31, 1916. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi Volume 2, 1914-1919 , 136-137

Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, July 31, 1916 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

[to Gizella Pálos]

Vienna, July 31, 1916
IX., Berggasse 19

Dearest lady,

Today I got up from an influenza fever lasting two days, but I don't want to make you wait for a reply.1 So don't be surprised if my writing is rather shaky.

I was afraid that I was supposed to advise you, but no, you are merely asking me to answer a question as to whether you were right in wanting to wait for your daughter's return. And perhaps I can still make a judgment about that, i.e., not as to whether it is right or wrong but interpret, translate, what it wants to say.

Perhaps you are right, but it seems without a doubt that this suggestion means a “no.” Are you thinking of waiting a half or 3/4 year longer, after one has already waited such long years, and for what? For this same daughter, who has already placed herself between the both of you and will do this immediately again both by her own will and by the consent of both of you. Does that mean something other than hiding the no behind a postponement, which will perhaps lead to a new motivation for the no?

I am not unaware of the fact that you are simply propagating a role which your counterpart has, to your sorrow, conducted against you, and that such revenge is psychologically completely justified. Really, if both of you are so close to the “no,” I don't know whether you aren't doing the right thing with your refusal. Only you should know that it is a refusal.

After

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