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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.

Jones, E. (1972). Sigmund Freud Life and Work, Volume One: The Young Freud 1856-1900. London: The Hogarth Press.

Jones, E. (1972). Sigmund Freud Life and Work, Volume One: The Young Freud 1856-1900. , 1-444. London: The Hogarth Press.

Sigmund Freud Life and Work, Volume One: The Young Freud 1856-1900

Ernest Jones

Sigmund Freud, 1891, aet. 35


This is not intended to be a popular biography of Freud: several have been written already, containing serious distortions and untruths. Its aims are simply to record the main facts of Freud's life while they are still accessible, and—a more ambitious one—to try to relate his personality and the experiences of his life to the development of his ideas.

It is not a book that would have met with Freud's own approval. He felt he had already in many passages of his writings divulged enough of his personal life—which, indeed, he later regretted having done—and that he had a right to keep private what remained: the world should get on with making use of his contributions to knowledge and forget about his personality. But his repentance of the self-revelations came too late. Ill-natured people were already at work distorting isolated passages with the object of disparaging his character, and this could be rectified only by a still fuller exposition of his inner and outer life.

Freud's family understandingly respected his wish for privacy, and indeed shared it. They often sheltered him from a merely inquisitive public. What changed their attitude later was the news of the many false stories invented by people who had never known him, stories which were gradually accumulating into a mendacious legend. They then decided to give me their whole-hearted support in my endeavour to present as truthful an account of his life as is in my power.

[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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