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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.

(2020). The case of J: Working as a psychoanalyst during the Pandemic. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 101(4):769-777.

(2020). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 101(4):769-777

The case of J: Working as a psychoanalyst during the Pandemic

(The analyst will be anonymous in this presentation)

(The analyst is a woman in her 50’s. English is not her native language, although she is fluent in English and practices in English.)


J is a successful performance artist and he currently works for a media company. He is 39, and has been married for seven months to M whom he had been dating for the past five years. He has been in analysis for five years and comes four times weekly and uses the couch.

J was previously in a long-term dynamic psychotherapy in his early twenties. Despite being helpful, this work led to a confusing experience when his therapist became gravely ill. They became “friends,” encouraged by her perceived and experienced neediness. This resulted in the therapist shifting her clinical role and crossing boundaries at times. After a year of “friendship” J became suicidal. At this point she encouraged him to find another therapist.

He started in another therapy with an analyst who J thought might be interested in him other than as a patient as well. This treatment lasted nine months. He left the treatment with the excuse that he was going to be away, working in another country.

Soon after he asked for individual treatment with me, fearing he would lose his job. After our work began, he was told by his boss that his heart was not in his work and they let him go. He was very upset and didn’t understand why this had happened when he worked so very hard to please everybody.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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