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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.

Bainbridge, C. (2011). Editorial. Free Associations, 12(1):i-ii.

(2011). Free Associations, 12(1):i-ii


Caroline Bainbridge

It is a huge delight to publish this inaugural issue of Free Associations: Psychoanalysis and Culture, Media, Groups, Politics in its new online format. As many readers will know, in 1984, Robert M. Young established Free Associations as a leading publication that sought to make links between the different spheres of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, culture, politics and groups and the journal continued to be published in both print and online formats until 2005. A great many articles, interviews and commentaries by some of the leading names in the field were published during this period and it is an honour to have been asked by Bob Young to take on Editorship of the journal as it is re-launched as a fully peer-reviewed online journal. In an important gesture of continuity with the former incarnation of the journal, this edition includes an invaluable guide to the contents of previous editions which has been prepared by Robert M Young especially. It is worth noting that many of the articles listed in this piece are available online to subscribers to and many others are also available on the Human Nature website ( Similarly, in the spirit of previous editions, this issue contains works authored by both academics and clinicians, who often work from different perspectives and regimes of interest in relation to psychoanalytic theory, but whose contributions to the terrain of discussion and debate around the intellectual, social and cultural values of a psychotherapeutic approach are equally valid. In keeping with the aims of original journal, Free Associations sets out to maintain this space for engagement and debate and hopes to become a key point of reference for scholars and clinicians alike as it strives to continue with this project. To cite the aims specified in the original editorial:

Our aim is to be open to critical thinking within the analytic tradition, broadly conceived, and to stimulate discussion and debate about theory, practice, institutionalisation and trainings in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and related topics in clinical and social psychology and culture.

[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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