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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.

Spitz, R.A. (1949). Autoerotism—Some Empirical Findings and Hypotheses on Three of its Manifestations in the First Year of Life. Psychoanal. St. Child, 3:85-120.

(1949). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 3:85-120

Autoerotism—Some Empirical Findings and Hypotheses on Three of its Manifestations in the First Year of Life

René A. Spitz, M.D.


A group of 170 children was observed during their first year of life for the incidence of three autoerotic activities, genital play, rocking and fecal play. The mother-child relations were established as the variable among the environmental factors which could affect this group. Two control groups were used in which the variable was kept as constant as possible: one group of family children with optimal mother-child relations and one group of institutionalized children where mother-child relations were so to say absent.

It was found that autoerotic activities are a function of the object relations prevailing during the first year of life. They are absent when object relations are absent; when object relations are so constantly contradictory that object formation is made impossible, rocking results. When object relations change in an intermittent manner fecal play results. When object relations are "normal", genital play results.

The dynamics of these different object relations were investigated and discussed.

[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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