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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.

(2013). List of Contributors. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 7(2):225-228.

(2013). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 7(2):225-228

List of Contributors

Helen Dunmore is a renowned poet, novelist, short story, and children's writer. Her poetry books have been given the Poetry Book Society Choice and Recommendations, Cardiff International Poetry Prize and Signal Poetry Award, and Bestiary was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. Her latest Bloodaxe poetry titles are Out of the Blue: Poems 1975-2001 (2001), Glad of These Times (2007), and The Malarkey (2012), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, the title-poem of which won the 2010 National Poetry Competition. She has published eleven novels and three books of short stories with Penguin, including A Spell of Winter, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction. She lives in Bristol.

Orit Badouk Epstein is an attachment based psychoanalytic psychotherapist (UKCP registered) and a supervisor working in private practice. She works relationally with all client groups and has a particular interest and passion for working with individuals who have experienced extreme abuse and trauma, with symptoms of dissociation. Orit is a trustee for the Clinic for Dissociative Studies. She is co-author of the book Ritual Abuse and Mind Control: the Manipulation of Attachment Needs (Karnac, 2011). She regularly writes articles, film and book reviews, and is the associate editor for the journal Attachment. E-mail:

Kate Evans is a healing survivor who has written extensively about healing from dissociation. She has also written a best-selling novel and other children's books, has had plays put on, and her poetry is widely enjoyed. She currently helps slow readers and does clay work with autistic children at a local school, besides sculpting a series of mother/father and child figures.

Karen Izod has been writing poems for over twenty years, but has only recently decided to give them wings. She is an independent consultant, researcher, and educator in organisational change and professional development, with a background in social work. She works with experiential learning methodologies to explore organisational and sectoral dilemmas. Currently her creative writing and her workshops are focussing on attachment to landscape, the city, and the nature of contested places. She is a founder and former co-director of the Tavistock Institute Practitioner Certificate programmes in Consulting for Change and Coaching for Leadership and Professional Development. E-mail:

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