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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.

Bernstein, J. (1992). The Research Method in the Making of a Psychoanalyst. Mod. Psychoanal., 17(2):183-195.

(1992). Modern Psychoanalysis, 17(2):183-195

The Research Method in the Making of a Psychoanalyst

June Bernstein, Ph.D.

When Drawin, as a fairly untutored young man, took a voyage on the Beagle, his sensationally perceptive observations led him to generate hypotheses that made scientific history. In describing how he worked, Darwin said, “I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it” (Britannica, p. 65). He was inspired by his observations to develop hypotheses and to test them by further observations. Doing experiments is often considered “the scientific method,” yet some of the most famous names in science were not experimentalists but observers.

When Freud began the observations that led to what was to become psychoanalysis, he brought with him an open mind. Being a skeptic, he was not committed to any of the then-prevailing views of the mind—so he did not have to fit his observations to any preexisting theory. When people talked in ways that reduced their symptoms—he began thinking that talking itself could be curative. When his patients often mentioned sex and dreams, he got interested in those topics. When they talked about him, he got interested in how the relationship was used. When he noticed that his patients did not always operate in accordance with the pleasure principle, but often repeated unpleasurable patterns that did not seem to be aimed at mastery, he began thinking about the need to repeat. First he made observations, then he developed hypotheses—about sexuality, unconscious processes transference, and resistance, and the repetition compulsion.

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