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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. (1900). Letter from Freud to Fliess, October 14, 1900. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, 426-427.

Freud, S. (1900). Letter from Freud to Fliess, October 14, 1900. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, 426-427

Letter from Freud to Fliess, October 14, 1900 Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

Vienna, October 14, 1900
IX., Berggasse 19

Dear Wilhelm,

You now have wife and child back home again, and you surely know that I saw and spoke to both of them for a moment. Robert was superb and with his divinely crude candor — not directed at me — reminded me of Paul Hammerschlag.1 Si parva licet componere magnis.2 May he retain it for a long time. Your wife obviously took the difficulties of her sick mother very much to heart. It really is something indescribably distressing, and when I heard that there were unnamed reasons against the journey to Berlin, I wondered whether it would not be best to persuade you to have nothing further to do with the treatment. She does not lose anything thereby, because what you want cannot happen. And perhaps she may gain something, because Breuer might do on his own what he would never do on request. I know him, he cannot be influenced, and it is not possible to break with him.

But I am personally far too involved to have a reliable opinion. As you said yourself, you are now asking my pardon for all sorts of thoughts you had about my relationship with him, and Ida has never before so quickly and so frequently agreed with me in all sorts of things — which inwardly must be a displacement of the one unadmitted correction. I wish there had been a more harmless occasion to be proved right. So I must take great pains not to look like an agitator. I really suffered a great deal before I tore myself away from him; an additional factor was the difficulty I had in gaining some understanding of his behavior, which you can now do without trouble.

[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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