Understanding inverse document frequency: on theoretical arguments for IDF

Stephen Robertson (Microsoft Research, Cambridge, UK and City University, London, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 1 October 2004


The term‐weighting function known as IDF was proposed in 1972, and has since been extremely widely used, usually as part of a TF*IDF function. It is often described as a heuristic, and many papers have been written (some based on Shannon's Information Theory) seeking to establish some theoretical basis for it. Some of these attempts are reviewed, and it is shown that the Information Theory approaches are problematic, but that there are good theoretical justifications of both IDF and TF*IDF in the traditional probabilistic model of information retrieval.



Robertson, S. (2004), "Understanding inverse document frequency: on theoretical arguments for IDF", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 60 No. 5, pp. 503-520. https://doi.org/10.1108/00220410410560582

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