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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.

Mokales, F.P. (1960). ASPECTOS DEL ANÁLISIS DE UNA PROSTITUTA. Rev. psicoanál., 17(1):66-81.

(1960). Revista de Psicoanálisis, 17(1):66-81


Fkancisco Pérez Mokales

Tina, una linda mujer de unos treinta años, llegó a mí enviada por un colega que la había tratado con terapéuticas biológicas que fracasaron. Cuando entró en mi consultorio me dijo:

-    ¿Puede pasar mamá, doctor?

-    ¿Quién es la enferma?


-    Bueno… yo.

-    Entonces pase usted.

Se sentó frente a mí echando miradas a la puerta e insistió:

-    ¿Por qué no puede pasar mamá, doctor?

-    ¿Por qué necesita que pase?

No contestó mi pregunta y reforzando una mueca facial que endurecía sus músculos y le daba una expresión oligoide, siguió hablando:

-    No sé qué me pasa, pero me parece que no soy yo misma… cuando empezó esto no era tan fuerte, pero ahora estoy así todo el día y hasta de noche, sueño siempre que yo me estoy mirando a mí misma, que camino y hablo, pero que yo estoy afuera de mí.

Yo ya sentía el impacto de la enorme angustia de Tina, mi cuerpo estaba rígido.

-    …Además, también la gente y las cosas me parecen cada vez más raras… y tengo miedo de… de que esto ya no me lo voy a poder sacar más… y entonces… yo… tengo miedo de…

-    De matarse.

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