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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.

Greenwald, J.B. (2005). Introduction. Psychoanal. Perspect., 2(2):27-28.

(2005). Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 2(2):27-28



Judith Becker Greenwald, L.C.S.W.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was a brilliantly sunny, late summer day. As I drove up the Palisades Parkway (about 15 miles northwest of Manhattan) to drop my daughter off at preschool, I smiled, reflecting on the summer just past as one of the best in recent memory.

So begins Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea's article “When the Trauma Is Terrorism and the Therapist Is Traumatized Too: Working as an Analyst Since 9/11.” Her understanding of the impact of 9/11 on the therapist appeared in the inaugural issue of Psychoanalytic Perspectives in Nov/Dec 2003. For your convenience, it is reprinted in its entirety online at our website, Alternatively, you can order a copy of the issue from N.I.P. T.I.

In her article, Frawley-O'Dea discussed her efforts to work with patients in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. She described her private reactions on that traumatic day, which dislodged her from her natural analytic posture in various treatment relationships. She discussed how, in part, her reactions to her patients were informed by her subjective experience, including unfamiliar and, at times, unsettling ways of relating in the treatment room, including self-disclosure and the way in which her politics uncharacteristically entered the analytic space. Frawley-O'Dea also reminded therapists of the importance of attending to their own needs in order to have the psychic resources available for their patients.


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