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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.

Sandler, J. (1957). Annual Review of Psychology: Paul R. Farnsworth and Quinn McNemar (eds.). Vol. 7. (Stanford, California: Annual Reviews Inc., 1956. Pp. 448. $7.00.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 38:432.

(1957). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 38:432

Annual Review of Psychology: Paul R. Farnsworth and Quinn McNemar (eds.). Vol. 7. (Stanford, California: Annual Reviews Inc., 1956. Pp. 448. $7.00.)

Review by:
Joseph Sandler

This is, as usual, a goldmine of information, and the present volume is perhaps the best of those published to date. The sixteen chapters cover the usual range of psychological topics, and include abnormalities of behaviour, psychotherapy, counselling, and a new chapter on gerontology.

With the growth of psycho-analytic psychology as distinct from psycho-analytic psychopathology and therapy, the research psycho-analyst will find this book useful as a reference source to psychological material which can be integrated into a psycho-analytic mode of thought. It is a pity that most of the authors seem to equate progress in psychology with the increased application of psychometric methods. Theories as such are given scant attention in the discussion, but this is a consequence of the necessity for condensation.

It is to be hoped that in forthcoming editions psycho-analytic psychology will find a chapter of its own. Nevertheless this book is a valuable asset to research workers who want to scan and trace relevant new contributions with speed and ease.

[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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