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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.

Cooper, A. Baistow, K. Farrar, M. (1993). ‘Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere’ 1992: three responses. Free Associations, 4(2):295-300.

(1993). Free Associations, 4(2):295-300

‘Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere’ 1992: three responses

Andrew Cooper, Karen Baistow and Max Farrar


I have always thought of the ‘Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere’ conference as above all a theatrical experience, and none the worse for that. No doubt this attitude has been nourished by three or four years of involvement as an organizer. Months of planning, auditioning, engaging and losing star players, publicity, mental rehearsal, even selecting understudies — and then the helpless days and hours before the opening, when the unique and unpredictable chemistry of speakers, their themes, and the participating audience goes to work. Happily, beyond this there is no text, and with the established structure of parallel streams of papers and a dozen or so small discussion groups, no two people attend quite the same conference. So while it is tempting to abandon all pretence at objectivity or summary in this report, I nevertheless offer some thoughts on the distinctive character of last year's experience, as well as some second-hand reactions and personal reflections.

The headline theme of the conference — ‘Power and Difference’ — and the three streams of papers on ‘Gender and Sexuality’, ‘Race, Ethnicity and Nation’ and ‘Marginalization and Mental Disorder’ probably encouraged greater specificity of content and a sharper overall focus on political perspectives than in previous years. Certainly they encouraged a fresh influx of both speakers and participants, with more black people and practitioners from the community mental health arena in evidence.

[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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