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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.

Green, A. (1994). The Functions of Writing: Transmission Between Generations and Role Assignment Within the Family, in Henry James and his Family. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 75:585-608.

(1994). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 75:585-608

The Functions of Writing: Transmission Between Generations and Role Assignment Within the Family, in Henry James and his Family

André Green


The Jameses provide abundant material for this study of the function of writing within a family, combining a relationship between generations and between the sexes among siblings. The starting point is Henry's dream of the Galerie d'Apollon, which can be referred to its sources in reality; its autobiographical account; and its transformation into a story. This material gives clues to some central features of his unconscious conflicts with both his father and elder brother. The father's writings deal with his concern with religion, which expresses his relationship with his own father. William transforms his father's theology into philosophy and becomes one of the pioneers of modern psychology. Alice's diary recounts her identification with her father's infirmity through her hysterical paralysis. Henry's work reveals that he is the one who really succeeded in solving his conflicts with the father. His literature is transgressive according to his father's and brother's values, though he shares their ideal of a consciousness common to the Jameses. Through fiction, Henry has indirect access to the drives; but only in his work did he acknowledge these, overcoming his oedipal conflicts. Thus Henry is the closest of the Jameses to psychoanalysis; his work enables us to make some hypotheses regarding the creative process.

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