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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.

Boston, M. (1989). James Robertson 1911 — 1988. J. Child Psychother., 15(2):5-8.

(1989). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 15(2):5-8

James Robertson 1911 — 1988

Mary Boston

James Robertson, who died unexpectedly on New Year's Eve 1988 after a short illness, will be remembered particularly for his immense achievements for the welfare of children in hospital. There will be few who are not familiar with his series of films on young children suffering separations from their mothers in varying circumstances.

Jimmy Robertson did not have an easy start in life and was always impecunious until the later stages of his career. But he had great determination and natural gifts. Starting off in the tenements of Glasgow and leaving school at fourteen, he achieved his education by his own efforts, taking a Social Science Diploma at a working men's college in Birmingham. It was at Cadbury's Bournville factory that he met his future wife, Joyce. Jimmy had strong convictions and was a pacifist in the second world war and worked, as did Joyce, with Family Service Units in the East End. He joined Anna Freud's war-time nursery, where Joyce was then working, not initially as a social worker, but as a firewatcher and general “man about the place”, but he gradually took on more social work duties. Lack of money was for a time an impediment to his training as a Psychiatric Social Worker but he eventually gained a place at the London School of Economics on the merits of an essay he had written.

When I first met Jimmy in 1948 at the Tavistock Clinic, he was the first member of John Bowlby's research team, investigating the effects on young children of separation from the mother.

[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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