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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.

(1984). Editorial. Brit. J. Psychother., 1(2):99-100.

(1984). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 1(2):99-100


Psychotherapy is conducted in many ways - from the meticulously precise, to the most intuitively various.

Jane Temperley's article discusses the variegated species of setting within which a common set of elements of good practice must survive, and describes the multiple pressures to diverge.

Psychotherapy has not been without its divergers. And the present landscape which this Journal now tries to scan is so complex it is hard for any one person to over-view it.

This issue of the Journal contains articles concerned with different theoretical and practical approaches. Dick Blackwell starts with a background in groupanalysis and seeks a theoretical rapprochement with system theory in the form of Bateson's bouble-dind theory. He draws practical conclusions about the problems of therapeutic communication within his particular setting. Eduardo Pitchon with a background in child psychotherapy is concerned with the practical problems that derive from transposing a strict technique to a setting in remedial education.

Angela Molnos has described a moment of critical development in her own theoretical approach to brief psychotherapy. In teaching the practice of it she found herself reformulating the framework for thinking about it. Such an intuitive moment is of importance for us since it exemplifies a moment of divergence.

Many psychotherapists have a repertoire of “techniques” which they employ as the occasion arises and if asked why, at a particular moment, they change technique the answer invariably boils down to a simple intuition.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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