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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.

Berke, J.H. (1987). February 1986 at the Royal Society of Medicine: The Arbours, 15+ Years. Brit. J. Psychother., 4(1):72-75.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 4(1):72-75

The Arbours Association Anniversary Lecture 11

February 1986 at the Royal Society of Medicine: The Arbours, 15+ Years

Joseph H. Berke

On behalf of the Arbours Association I would like to welcome you to our 15th anniversary celebration. In fact in a couple of months' time it will be 16 years since the group was established in the spring of 1970. In considering 16 years of Arbours activities I would like briefly to review, our past - our history, as well as touch upon our present work and future plans.

The Arbours was founded by Dr Morton Schatzman, myself, our wives and others in order to provide personal, psychotherapeutic support, and places to live outside mental hospital for people in emotional distress. I would like to quote from a statement in one of our first brochures as it presents some of our motivating beliefs, beliefs which we continue to hold today:

We feel it is more helpful and humane to give persons who have been or could become mental patients a chance not to be seen as mentally ill, called mentally ill, or treated as mentally ill. There are practical reasons for this approach. The label ‘mental patient’ remains a severe social stigma. It may limit work, travel and educational opportunities. Other people - friends, relatives or strangers - behave differently towards those they perceive as ‘mentally ill’. They are often intimidating, rejecting or patronising. Furthermore the term ‘mental illness’ can be confusing and unhelpful for the people to whom it is applied. The ‘mentally ill person’ tends to take on others' unsympathetic attitudes and abdicate responsibility for his life to outside authorities or institutions, all to his detriment.

[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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