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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.

Sanville, J.B. (2002). When Therapist and Patient Are Both in Erikson's Eighth Stage. Psychoanal. Inq., 22(4):626-639.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 22(4):626-639

When Therapist and Patient Are Both in Erikson's Eighth Stage

Jean B. Sanville, M.S.W., Ph.D.

Reflections on Discovering That One Has Become Old

Over the Years, 1 have Written Quite a Few Versions of my professional life history. At times I was prompted by my astonishment at finding myself in a stage of life that I had always thought of as “older,” and attempting some insight at how I could have arrived there without being very conscious of such a march of time. The first version occurred, I think, when, after decades of teaching at UCLA, I found in my classroom one morning the daughter of a young student, as yet unmarried, who had been in the first class I had taught here. Subsequent editions of my history were requested by various groups. It was as though younger professionals did not want to be caught off guard as I had been. They also found it easier to learn about the history of their profession by listening to a colleague who had lived through most of it, so there were several times when Smith Collect School of Social Work students requested that I speak with them about how it had been to be a clinical social worker when most of them were in nursery or grammar school. One of the last papers I found in my overcrowded files was one entitled. “New Beginnings and Open Endings: A Fresh Version of an Old Narrative,” which had been delivered in Los Angeles at a June 1989 meeting of the Southern California Area Committee of the NMCOP.

[This is a summary or excerpt from the full text of the book or article. The full text of the document is available to subscribers.]

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