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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. (1894). Letter from Freud to Fliess, May 21, 1894. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, 73-76.

Freud, S. (1894). Letter from Freud to Fliess, May 21, 1894. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, 73-76

Letter from Freud to Fliess, May 21, 1894 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

Vienna, May 21, 1894

Dearest friend,

Dearest in truth, because I find it touching that you should so thoroughly go into my condition at a time when you are either very busy or not well or possibly both. There was a gap in your letters which had begun to look uncanny to me, and which almost induced me to write for information to a young lady in Berlin with whom I am acquainted1 and who, I hope, is on friendly terms with me as well. Then came your letter with the meticulous refutation of my fantasies that are typical of an intern and a dilettante, but not a word about your own health. I have noted for some time that you bear suffering better and with more dignity than I, who eternally vacillate in my moods.

I promise you a detailed report on my illness next time; I feel better, but far from well; at least I am working again. Today I shall allow myself a good hour and chat only about science with you. It is obviously no special favor of fate that I have approximately five hours a year to exchange ideas with you, when I can barely do without the other — and you are the only other, the alter.

Tomorrow I am sending the hen and the five little chicks to Reichenau, and during the sad loneliness that follows — my sister-in-law Minna, otherwise my closest confidante, will depart two weeks later — I shall more often carry out my resolution at least to write to you.

I put part of the neurosis story on paper for you when I was still in my worst period, but now I am stuck. I have a lot to do; in addition, the next installment of the Leçons du mardi; the last case history for Breuer; continuing my neurosis collection; thus, I am making no progress.

[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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