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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. (1988). Report from the Working Party Chair. Brit. J. Psychother., 4(4):447-449.

(1988). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 4(4):447-449

Rugby Conference 1988

Report from the Working Party Chair

Michael Pokorny

In January 1982 the British Association for Counselling (BAC) organised a conference of psychotherapy organisations. This was held at Rugby and was intended as a follow-up to the Foster Report of 1971, the Sieghurt Report of 1978 and the meeting at the DHSS in 1981.

Since then there has been an annual conference of representatives of psychotherapy organisations and related professional bodies. Still called the Rugby Conference to avoid any contentious titles, it has grown and changed and is now, we hope, on the point of setting up the Standing Conference for Psychotherapy. Our format has also changed considerably: at the beginning we met on Saturday morning until Sunday lunch. Then we began meeting from Friday evening to Sunday lunch, with an introductory debate or talk on the issue of creating a distinct profession of psychotherapy.

Today we begin with a report from the Working Party Chair, followed by reports from the category link-persons. We hope that this foreshadows our future annual conferences with our new federal structure - if we decide to go ahead with our current organisation. Tomorrow morning we shall face a decision on our future.

For tonight we are concerned with getting up to date. Since we last met here a year ago your Working Party has met three times, on each occasion for a day in London. As last year we were again this year a large Working Party. We differed sharply on a number of important issues so that our work included a fair share of strife. We hope that our ability to stay together will serve as a good model for Conference.

[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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