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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.

Gotti, R. (1982). Love and Neurotic Claims. Am. J. Psychoanal., 42(1):61-70.

(1982). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 42(1):61-70

Love and Neurotic Claims

Richard Gotti, Ph.D., A.C.S.W.

John Marcher waited all his life to be captured, to be overwhelmed by a unique and powerful destiny that would spring like a “beast in the jungle.”1 Immersed for nearly a lifetime in anticipation of this cataclysmic event, he was incapable of experiencing or appreciating what he had, including his long friendship with May Bartram. May, to whom he had revealed his secret destiny, had agreed to be the patient observer over the course of their friendship, to be the primary witness to the event that would unleash the beast.

Through all the years of their friendship, she demanded nothing from him. He accepted her devotion, patience, and sustained interest, offering nothing of himself in return. Years passed, the vigil continued, May grew ill and died, taking with her an insight about the beast that she could not communicate to him. In one of Marcher's frequent visits to the cemetery, he was suddenly struck with the horror of discovery, with the tragic realization that the beast, the soft beast, had sprung in that gentle friendship with May:

… She had lived-who could say now with what passion?-since she had loved him for himself; whereas he had never thought of her (ah, how it hugely glared at him!) but in the chill of his egotism and the light of her use…. The beast had lurked indeed, and the beast at its hour, had sprung; it had sprung in the twilight of the cold April when pale, ill, wasted, but all beautiful, and perhaps even then recoverable, she had risen from her chair to stand before him and let him imaginably guess. It had sprung as he didn't guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned from him, and the mark, by the time he left her, had fallen where it was to fall … He saw the Jungle of his life and saw the lurking Beast His eyes darkened-it was close; and, instinctively turning, in his hallucination, to avoid it, he flung himself, on his face, on the tomb.1


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