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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.

Clulow, C. Shmueli, A. Vincent, C. Evans, C. (2002). Is Empirical Research Compatible with Clinical Practice?. Brit. J. Psychother., 19(1):33-44.

(2002). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 19(1):33-44


Is Empirical Research Compatible with Clinical Practice?

Christopher Clulow, Avi Shmueli, Christopher Vincent and Christopher Evans

This paper explores the provocative question in the title through the authors' experiences of working within a couple psychotherapy service. In it we hope to chart how it became possible to undertake empirical research in a clinical setting. Underlying the question we found a number of others. For example, when and how does empirical research threaten or enhance couples' therapies? Is empirical research a toxic introject, an idealized object and/or a real cultural, developmental experience for a clinical service? The process of change described in this paper involved conflict and took time to develop. We hope to demonstrate that what was achieved was done without detriment to the quality of the service offered and was not at the expense of those who used it. Our view is that the careful engagement we describe is most likely to have had a beneficial impact on both.

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