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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.

Gentile, J. (2013). From Truth or Dare to Show and Tell: Reflections on Childhood Ritual, Play, and the Evolution of Symbolic Life. Psychoanal. Dial., 23(2):150-169.

(2013). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 23(2):150-169

From Truth or Dare to Show and Tell: Reflections on Childhood Ritual, Play, and the Evolution of Symbolic Life

Jill Gentile, Ph.D.



The game starts with all players in a central location. One player is given the designation of “it.” There are two portions to the game: the hiding—all the players, except “it,” locate a place in which to hide, and the seeking—“it” attempts to locate at least one of the players. The overall objective is to not be discovered by “it.” (“Hide-and-Seek,” retrieved from Wikipedia, November 30, 2008)

In his 1963 essay on communication, D.W. Winnicott evoked this familiar children's game to capture the poignant plight of the child who longs for a sacred zone of privacy even as he wants to share and be known. “It is a sophisticated game of hide-and-seek in which it is joy to be hidden but disaster not to be found” (p. 186) .

In her 1994 article “Love in the Afternoon,” Jody Davies finds herself with her adult male patient, Mr. M, in a paralyzing dance of secrecy, privacy, and unspoken—even unthinkable—desires. Davies describes her particular entanglement not only with her patient but with psychoanalysishistory and with its ensnaring legacy—a legacy stemming from the analyst's so-called quest for “neutrality” and from implicit (and, at times, explicit) demands for handling countertransference and erotic desire in a private, undisclosed manner. In parallel, Davies’ patient, Mr. M, has his own zone of privacy and shame, his own unmentionable erotic desire.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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