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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.

Simon, B. (1988). The Imaginary Twins: The Case of Beckett and Bion. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 15:331-352.

(1988). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 15:331-352

The Imaginary Twins: The Case of Beckett and Bion

Bennett Simon


This paper compares the careers of the writer Samuel Beckett and the psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion. Their lives crossed during the years 1934–35, when Beckett was in treatment with Bion. I argue that there is a common set of concerns that shapes the writings of these two men as well as similarities in form and content. I suggest that a certain modern paradigm underlies the work of the two thinkers: the breakdown of attempts to maintain connexions, whether interpersonal connexions or logical connexions. Both Beckett and Bion struggle with how to connect in the face of this catastrophic breakdown in meaningful connexion. I hypothesize that a certain kind of 'imaginary' twinning relationship developed between the two, and that each used the brief actual contact with the other to help sustain the effort at exploring the pain of non-meaning and non-connecting.

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