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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.

Betts, D. (2003). Bruce A. Gibbard 1932-2002. Canadian J. Psychoanal., 11(1):275-278.

(2003). Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 11(1):275-278

Bruce A. Gibbard 1932-2002

Douglas Betts

I have a heavy heart this morning. In fact, I have felt this way for the past month since I learned of Bruce's death. For 40 years Bruce and I shared so much together as fellow students, professional colleagues, personal friends, collaborators (on at least one professional paper), and rivals. Although he was a few years older, our lives followed a close parallel path.

We graduated from medical school the same year, but from disparate universities. By July 1963, we were together again in the same class at McGill University in Montreal for psychoanalytic training.

For those early years I do not have distinct memories, for we trained at different hospitals with dissimilar interests in psychiatry. However, by February 1971, distinct memories do come to mind, a few of which I shall share with you.

First scene: February 1971—a dark Montreal evening, but an important one for Bruce and myself. It is the evening of our first seminar in psychoanalytic training. I see Bruce parking his car across the street and in my surprise say, “What are you doing here?” His retort was simply, “This is something you had better take up with your analyst.”

By 1978 our lives and interests were coming closer together. Bruce was closing his private office in Montreal, and I remember offering to help him with the move to Burlington. Two years later, Carole and I joined him.


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