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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.

Young, R.M. (1996). Jonathan Pedder talks to Paul Gordon and Robert M. Young. Free Associations, 6(1):1-13.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(1):1-13

The Free Associations Interview

Jonathan Pedder talks to Paul Gordon and Robert M. Young

Robert M. Young

Paul Gordon (PG): Perhaps to start you could say what the main changes have been in psychotherapy and the health service since you first started working in the National Health Service.

Jonathan Pedder (JP): I started in 1965 in psychiatry at the Maudsley. I think there's been a slow, steady advance in psychotherapy, if you take a broader view. The run-down of the mental hospitals, the move from the mental hospitals to district general hospitals, the movement from hospitals into the community, which is all in fashion at the moment—I like to think there's been a slow, steady advance although never as far as you would like. If you actually count up the number of consultant psychotherapists in Britain it's still a long way below what it should be, never as far as enthusiasts want but it's a slow, steady advance.

Robert M. Young (RMY): How many consultant psychotherapists are there today?

JP: There are now over one hundred consultant psychotherapists in the U.K. If you follow the Royal College of Psychiatrists norms which I mention in the paper (pp. 14-27), there ought to be one per hundred thousand but I think there are only a quarter of that number, so there is still some way to go. But there's been slow, steady expansion.

RMY: And how many psychiatrists?

JP: There are about five thousand members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and something like a thousand general adult psychiatrists. So there's one psychotherapist to ten psychiatrists; it ought to be about two or three to ten.

RMY:

[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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