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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.

Winnicott, D.W. (1968). Note of Contribution. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:279.

(1968). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49:279

Note of Contribution

D. W. Winnicott

Dr Winnicott gave a communication based on an inter-change of drawings obtained in what he calls a therapeutic consultation. The patient was a boy of nearly 10 years. There was no common language between Winnicott and the patient and the verbalization was done through an interpreter (Miss Helka Asikainen).

This was a case of congenital syndactyly, hands and feet, a condition also present in the child's mother. The main message communicated by the child was that he needed to be accepted first of all as himself as born, and he showed this by his identification with webbed-footed water birds.

In a corresponding session with the mother Winnicott found that she had in fact at first rejected this one of her children because she could not bear the sense of guilt which she felt at having produced a child with her deformity when she knew too well the risk that she was taking. Soon she accepted the boy and became a very good mother to him but this was on the basis of having everything possible done to cure his condition. Out of the mother's sense of guilt there had come about a compulsive tendency towards full exploitation of remedial surgery.

As a result of the consultation a more rational attitude could be adopted and there was greater freedom for a discussion as to how far remedial surgery could be used and how far it would be expedient to accept the condition as a limited handicap in the life of this rather normal boy.

[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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