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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.

Stern, J. Weiss, H. (2007). EDITORIAL. Psychoanal. Psychother., 21(2):115-118.

(2007). Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 21(2):115-118


Julian Stern and Heinz Weiss


Over the years there have been many papers in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy which have focused on psychotherapeutic interventions with patients suffering from physical ailments. Indeed, not only have there been papers such as ‘My eyes are misting over’ (Zalidis 2002), ‘Thirty years of abdominal pain’ (Stern 2003), ‘Menstruation – the gap in the text?’ (Kerkham 2003), and ‘Exploratory ideas on the role of the psychotherapist in a heart-transplant team: Thinking aloud’ (Borghetti-Hiscock 2001), but the two most recent special issues of the journal have also focused on very particular somatic topics. The first special issue (Whyte 2004) was entitled ‘The facts of life. The impact of the therapist's pregnancy on the treatment of the borderline patient’, while the second special issue (Lawrence et al. 2004) was on ‘Eating disorders’.

The current special issue is a collection of papers, all of which address, in one way or another, matters pertaining to the body. Some of the papers are clinically oriented (Borghetti-Hiscock, Zalidis, Frank), while others (Segal, Forssell) are more explicitly concerned with the relationships between health care professionals (e.g. trainee doctors or psychotherapists working with MS patients) and patients. In both sets of papers, there are patients described who are not ‘traditional psychotherapy patients’, and in all cases there is a description of using psychoanalytic ideas to inform the work, be it as a General Practitioner, a psychoanalyst or a psychotherapist working in a medical setting, or a Balint group facilitator.

[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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