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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.

Margolis, M. (1977). A Preliminary Report of a Case of Consummated Mother-Son Incest. Ann. Psychoanal., 5:267-293.

(1977). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 5:267-293

IV Clinical Psychoanalysis

A Preliminary Report of a Case of Consummated Mother-Son Incest

Marvin Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.


A case of consummated mother-son incest has been described after nine years of psychotherapy. The reasons for the apparent increase in such cases as well as the paucity of reports were discussed in terms of the reluctance of those involved in mother-son incest to present themselves for treatment, the countertransference aspects, and changing sexual mores. Specific aspects of the therapeutic handling of such cases were reviewed. The therapeutic necessity to handle the homicidal and suicidal impulses of such patients was stressed. Moreover, the frequent necessity of the therapist to serve as an alter ego at times of stress in order to halt precipitous decompensation of ego defenses was noted. Possible etiologic factors in the genesis of such a condition, particularly in the patient's conception of himself as an “exception,” were discussed. The overriding role of sadism toward a rejecting mother and the consequent need to punish oneself for such motives have been presented as the clinical core of this phenomenon. The ego of the patient presented here is so deformed that he will probably remain a very dependent, impulse-ridden, and vulnerable individual throughout his life. The availability of supportive treatment on a continuous basis would seem to be indicated, due to the gross defects in his ego attendant upon his incestuous history in particular and his early deprivation in general.

[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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