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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.

Frink, H.W. (1917). A Psychoanalytic Study of a Severe Case of Compulsion Neurosis. Psychoanal. Rev., 4(1):12-46.

(1917). Psychoanalytic Review, 4(1):12-46

A Psychoanalytic Study of a Severe Case of Compulsion Neurosis

H. W. Frink, M.D.

Part I. Introduction

Very few psychoanalytic writers have attempted to make a detailed report of an analyzed case. This has seemed to me a matter of regret for, however carefully written, the usual brief published records are apt to give an erroneous impression of the actual work of psychoanalysis. I had hoped to be able sometime to report an analysis more fully than is usually attempted, but I found a serious difficulty in the way of accomplishing this intention for the cases which I had in private practice could not be written up in detail without disclosing matters which would readily identify the patients, naturally an undesirable result of publication.

Then there came under my observation the clinic patient whom this study concerns. I soon concluded that I had here a case which if analyzed could be fully reported and it was for this reason that I began the work. With the exception of her parents and her husband none of her relatives or friends knew what her symptoms were, or that she came to me for treatment. Her parents cannot read English and her husband is now dead while it is unlikely that among her friends there are any persons who would ever read psychological literature or be able to identify the patient from this report even if they did read it. The fact that there are several physicians who would be able to make the identification does not seem to me to be a reason to deter me from writing it.

It is not however possible even in this case to provide the full record which I had hoped for when I began the analysis. In the first place the work was interrupted before the analysis was finished. In the second, the analysis of a case represents so much conversation and so many digressions from the central theme that for me, at least, so encyclopedic a report would be a physical and literary impossibility.


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