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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.

Stanton, M. (1990). Psychoanalysis in British universities: The Kent Case. Free Associations, 1U(20):104-113.

(1990). Free Associations, 1U(20):104-113

Psychoanalysis in British universities: The Kent Case

Martin Stanton

In October 1988, the University of Kent inaugurated the first Masters course in psychoanalytic studies in Great Britain. The event surprised many within the academic and psychoanalytic communities. They wondered how a new course in a new subject area could be set up at a time when higher education was experiencing unprecedented cutbacks. Furthermore, they were puzzled that this course was based in the Faculty of Humanities, in a university some distance from North London, the supposed ‘natural’ site for British psychoanalytic innovation.

The University of Kent is a ‘new’ university, founded in the midst of the 1960s' surge in higher education. Its institutions and administration are therefore based on ideas of educational democracy that emerged during that era. The professorial, for example, does not have an ideological or economic stranglehold on what is taught; staff are employed by faculties, rather than by traditional subject boards (such as History or English), so that interdisciplinary projects may be created on a faculty level. Lastly, student demand is taken very seriously, both at committee level, where students are prominently represented, and academically, where students expect recent ideas in new areas of research to be reflected in new courses.

[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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