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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.

Windholz, E. (1947). Jacob S. Kasanin—1897–1946. Psychoanal Q., 16:94-95.

(1947). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 16:94-95

Jacob S. Kasanin—1897–1946

Emanuel Windholz

Jacob Sergi Kasanin was born in Slavgorod, USSR, on May 11, 1897. He came to the United States in 1915, and received his M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1921 and his M.S. in Public Health in 1926. As Senior Research Associate at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital and as Director of the Department of Mental Hygiene of the Federated Jewish Charities in Boston, his interest centered around the study of blood sugar curves in epidemic encephalitis, in mental disease, in emotional states, etc. Then he turned to the study of psychoses in children, which became his favorite topic throughout the years from 1931, when he became Clinical Director of the Rhode Island State Hospital, and later as Director of the Department of Psychiatry at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, from 1936 to 1939. His first papers on Personality Changes in Children Following Cerebral Trauma (Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 1929), and A Study of the Functional Psychoses in Children (American Journal of Psychiatry, 1929), were followed by a series of others leading to his studies of schizophrenia. While originally he was mainly interested in constitutional factors, on his trip to Russia (1930) he became acquainted with the psychologist Vigotsky and was greatly impressed by his work. He translated into English Vigotsky's Thought in Schizophrenia (Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 1934), and the chapter on Thought and Speech in Vigotsky's monograph on Language and Thought (Psychiatry, 1939).

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