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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.

Kappelle, W. (1996). How Useful Is Selection?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 77:1213-1232.

(1996). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 77:1213-1232

How Useful Is Selection?

Willem Kappelle

The author begins by reviewing the literature on the selection of applicants for psychoanalytic training. Having himself been active in a training role in the Dutch Society for many years, he then discusses that society's selection approach and compares it with the literature reports, which he in many cases finds inconclusive and incomplete, partly because relevant information is often unavailable for reasons of discretion. A major problem is stated to be the difficulty of defining the concept of a good psychoanalyst. Although most of the published material concentrates on the qualities of the applicant, it is pointed out that the selectors and the manner of their interaction with the applicant are also important. The centrepiece of the paper is a detailed report on the results of a survey by the author of the methods used by the Dutch Society's selectors over a seventeen-year period, in which the approaches of selectors of different ages and backgrounds and their responses to different types of applicants are compared by statistical techniques. Selection methods proved to be largely intuitive and the survey respondents had difficulty in defining the criteria they used. For all the imponderables, the author notes that no training committee is prepared to abandon selection—usually by interview—even if it can ultimately do no more than assess an applicant's analysability and life accomplishments.

[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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