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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.

Bing, J.F. (1985). The Annual of Psychoanalysis. X, 1982: Peter Pan and Captain Hook: A Study in Oedipal Rivalry. Nicholas Tucker. Pp. 355-367.. Psychoanal Q., 54:511.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The Annual of Psychoanalysis. X, 1982: Peter Pan and Captain Hook: A Study in Oedipal Rivalry. Nicholas Tucker. Pp. 355-367.

(1985). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 54:511

The Annual of Psychoanalysis. X, 1982: Peter Pan and Captain Hook: A Study in Oedipal Rivalry. Nicholas Tucker. Pp. 355-367.

James F. Bing

One of the best ways to understand the child's inner life and rich fantasies is by reading fairy tales. The writer of fairy tales is endowed with this kind of understanding. Tucker's study focuses on Peter Pan, for years one of the most popular fairy tales. The author beautifully explicates the subtle ways the child's unconscious is able to respond to the various plots woven into this magnificent tale. He demonstrates how Barrie's background was conducive to this kind of story. Barrie's major difficulty was that he was never able to grow up. He lived much of his life in a child's fantasy world, and although this was developmentally tragic for him, it lent an extra dimension to his writing.

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Article Citation

Bing, J.F. (1985). The Annual of Psychoanalysis. X, 1982. Psychoanal. Q., 54:511

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