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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.

Olinick, S.L. (1987). The Occasional Question in Psychoanalytic Assessments. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 14:420.

(1987). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 14:420

The Occasional Question in Psychoanalytic Assessments

Stanley L. Olinick, M.D.

Dear Dr Hayley:

It is an irony that a good paper published with insufficient bibliographic background research may exemplify the proposition that discovery is rediscovery and finding is refinding. The proposition has been a psychoanalytic truism since Freud, but known also to the ancients, notably Plato, long before. Freud's bibliographic research for his dream book has been an exemplar and intimidator for generations of students.

This is exemplified in a limited way by Dr Fred Busch's otherwise carefully documented presentation on 'The occasional question in psychoanalytic assessments' (Int. Rev. Psychoanal., 13: 453–461). I confess special pleading, for the omissions I must point out are of my two papers on questioning ('Some considerations of the use of questioning in psychoanalytic technique', J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 1954, 2: 57–66, and 'Questioning and pain, truth and negation', J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 1957, 5: 302–324). The first of these papers dealt with questioning as a parameter of basic technique (cf. Eissler, K., 'The effect of the structure of the ego on psychoanalytic technique', J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 1953, 1: 104–143), and as having a potential effect on the transference that must be kept minimal and analysable, so that the effect can be reduced to zero. The second essay traced the etymological history of the word, question, from Rome to the Inquisition, adducing the large measure of aggressive, sado-masochistic impulse that enters into the psychology of the question.

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