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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.

Reichbart, R. (2019). Chimeras and Other Writings: Selected Papers of Sheldon Bach. Psychoanal Q., 88(3):641-646.

(2019). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 88(3):641-646

Chimeras and Other Writings: Selected Papers of Sheldon Bach

Review by:
Richard Reichbart

It should be said at the outset: this is a brilliant psychoanalytic book, not only for its content but for the style of its writing. Open this book at any page, and you will find an insight and a description that will inform you about clinical choices, reason with you in a considered and careful manner, and frankly delight you with its passion and empathy. This is the kind of book that will become frayed in my library, from picking it up again and again, for at every point it makes one say “I recognize this patient or this situation and Bach makes me ponder and wonder anew about it.”

For this review, I am tempted to just selectively quote Bach from his thirteen papers here, without comment, because there is so much that is profound. The thirteen papers range from titles such as “On the Narcissistic State of Consciousness” to “Sadomasochism in Clinical Practice and Everyday Life” to “On Treating the Difficult Patient” to “Analytic Technique and Analytic Love.” But there are two common themes, among many, that stand out in all these collected papers. The first is embodied in Bach’s statement that, “If we are only able to listen carefully enough, patients will usually prescribe exactly what is necessary for their healing to begin” (p. 224).


[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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