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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.

Goldberg, A. (1999). Response: There are No Pure Forms. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(2):395-400.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(2):395-400

Response: There are No Pure Forms

Arnold Goldberg

I could not help but be pleased that the discussants of my paper, in keeping with Nancy Chodorow's plaint about twos, showed the proper mixture of enjoyment and discontent that any writer should hope to produce. One fails in the writing or delivering of a paper if the audience leaves without worry, since that, I believe, is the crucial emotion for the life of an analyst, who probably should worry her- or himself right to the grave. Contentment, certainty, and calm are the sirens surely of our individual journeys, and I allowed myself a bit of each as I felt I succeeded in properly troubling my listeners and discussants. As much as I like everyone to agree with me, the real pleasure comes from getting someone to feel some of that unsettled state that sometimes succeeds in pulling us away from what we know for sure.

To begin with, Theodore Shapiro is absolutely right that my paper is not about the case of Karl, although a case often serves as a nidus of discussion. The lure of clinical material can, however, at times be addictive, and one anonymous listener pleasantly offered some free supervision to help me see the “compromise formations” I had missed. My reaction to that proffered gift was most precisely just what one should not have—annoyance or dismissal. I can honestly say that I no longer have “compromise formations” as a source of personal interest or worry; quite to the contrary, I was delighted to see that Shapiro was himself frustrated about my questionable allegiance to an unconscious determinant.

[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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