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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.

Pokorny, M. (1987). Rugby Psychotherapy Conference 1987 Canterbury 9-11 January. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(4):391-392.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(4):391-392

The Standing Conference

Rugby Psychotherapy Conference 1987 Canterbury 9-11 January

Michael Pokorny

The sixth ‘Rugby Conferenc’ was attended by 66 delegates. Because the 1986 Conference had instructed the Working Party to organise some kind of federal structure for the proposed Standing Conference and to bring that federal structure to the next Conference for discussion and agreement, the main work of this Conference was done in groups of varying size. We had been a large Working Party who did not know each other at all well.

After a year of very hard work we had devised the most simple form of federal structure to present to Conference. Participating organisations would be asked to group themselves into six categories and each category would determine the criteria by which new organisations could join it. Of course, to inaugurate a Standing Conference those category criteria would be applied to the founding member organisations.

After a very interesting introduction to the whole theme of the development of a profession of psychotherapy by Deryck Dyne on the Friday evening, followed by a lively discussion, we had a fairly brief introduction to the requirements of category grouping on the Saturday morning. With my heart in my mouth I instructed the delegates to form themselves into groups but to make sure that no group left the Conference Chamber until all the groups had been formed. After a certain amount of struggle groups were formed with the exception of one pair of delegates who had a specific difficulty. At that point it was agreed that the groups would begin their work and that the Working Party would meet with the two delegates and discuss their difficulty.

[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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