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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. (1917). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, January 28, 1917. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi Volume 2, 1914-1919, 179-180.

Freud, S. (1917). Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, January 28, 1917. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Ferenczi Volume 2, 1914-1919 , 179-180

Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, January 28, 1917 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

Vienna, January 28, 1917
IX., Berggasse 19

Dear friend,

I heard about your diagnosis with regret, without ascribing the same significance to it as you. Illnesses of this kind now seem to be uncommonly frequent and certainly don't always mean anything serious. It also turned out with Anna that in breathing the apex of one of her lungs comes through less clearly, otherwise nothing. She looks bad, though, is tired, and has temperatures between 36.9 and 37.3. As soon as possible she will take a leave of several weeks. Of course, where to in these times? It will probably be Semmering.

It would be very nice if you came to Vienna for a day before your trip, as you indicated.1

I have finally received some books on Lamarck. My impression is that we are coming completely into line with the psycho-Lamarckists, such as Pauly,2 and will have little to say that is completely new. Still, ΨA will then have left its calling card with biology.

The printing of Lectures III has finally begun.

Fräulein Helberg was with Hitschmann only for an internal examination. I haven't seen her since.

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