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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.

Strean, H.S. (1971-72). Social Change and the Proliferation of Regressive Therapies. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(4):581-594.

(1971-72). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(4):581-594

Social Change and the Proliferation of Regressive Therapies

Herbert S. Strean, D.S.W


At the turn of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents, 5 described how the individual is in constant conflict between the urge to gratify his instinctual impulses, on one hand, and the desire to conform to imperatives of authorities surrounding him, such as the parents, school, church or state, on the other. Said Freud, “A great part of the struggles of mankind centers around the single task of finding some expedient solution between these individual claims and those of the civilized community; it is one of the problems of man's fate whether this solution can be arrived at in some particular form of culture or whether the conflict will prove irreconcilable.” Freud, who has been frequently misinterpreted, consistently stood for the taming and control of sexual and aggressive impulses rather than for their random expression. “Where there is id, there shall ego be,” meant that psychoanalytic treatment would aim to provide the individual with increased rational thinking, a realistic understanding and appreciation of himself and others, and the ability to renounce many of his infantile desires. “To work and love another” was and still is the goal that many Freudian analysts and psychotherapists set for and with their patients.

As Freud pondered the state of civilized man, implied in his writing is a certain pessimism about man's fate. Freud seemed to question the ability of the authority structure in Western society to help individuals renounce their tendency toward “unbridled aggression” and “egoistic self-satisfaction.”

[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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