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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.

Kris, E. (1962). Decline and Recovery in the Life of a Three-Year-Old or Data in Psychoanalytic Perspective on the Mother-Child Relationship—(Alternately Subtitle as Major Title.). Psychoanal. St. Child, 17:175-215.

(1962). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 17:175-215

Decline and Recovery in the Life of a Three-Year-Old or Data in Psychoanalytic Perspective on the Mother-Child Relationship—(Alternately Subtitle as Major Title.)

Ernst Kris, Ph.D.

[Part 1]


A. The Problem

It is late in Spring, close to the end of the school year, and the nursery school group is playing in the yard. The morning is well advanced, and the first of the parents come to take their children home. They have been expected. The ten three-year-olds who form the group have been together since September, twice a week for three morning hours, which seemed long at first and have become shorter as the months progressed. The children have formed something more than fleeting attachments among each other and distinct relationships to the teachers, and to the psychiatrists acting as helpers in the group, each of whom had devoted special attention to one of the children throughout the school year. And yet leaving the group comes easily. The call of the home has not lost its unique power. There are few who display their pleasure; most seem proud to have been found in the midst of some activity, which the parent is supposed to watch for a moment or two before the child surrenders the world (of his own) in which he had been living for the past few hours. This is the average picture that mirrors the conflict of the age between growing independence and old attachment. Even in this

Editor's Note.—Ernst Kris started writing this essay in 1956. It was unfinished at the time of his sudden death in February of the following year.

[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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