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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.

Bachrach, H.M. Weber, J.J. Solomon, M. (1985). Factors Associated with the Outcome of Psychoanalysis (Clinical and Methodological Considerations): Report of the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center Research Project (Iv). Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 12:379-389.

(1985). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 12:379-389

Factors Associated with the Outcome of Psychoanalysis (Clinical and Methodological Considerations): Report of the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center Research Project (Iv)

Henry M. Bachrach, John J. Weber and Murray Solomon


This is the final report of the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center Research Project. The methods of investigation and main findings of the project were reviewed, and discussed from clinical and methodological perspectives. Additional data from the project were presented demonstrating that there is not only a highly substantial relationship between the development of an analytic process and the achievement of therapeutic benefit, but also that the magnitude of that relationship is enhanced by the accessibility of conscious insight. Data were also presented showing that there was little relationship between the extent of clinical improvement seen by analysts while a case is in progress and at its termination, suggesting that one must wait until a case is over before one can study what its final result will be. The importance of developing methodologically rigorous and analytically meaningful methods of investigation, and of studying outcomes in the light of the analytic-dyad (e.g. the analytic process, interventions, countertransferences, and the analyst-analysand match), was stressed.

[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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