Exploring Voyant Tools

This week we were tasked with exploring one of the following online tools: TIME Magazine Corpus, Google Ngram Viewer, Voyant Tools, or to take a look at “On Broadway,” a visualization project that uses images and data collected from the famous New York City street. I chose to take a look at Voyant Tools (mostly because I thought the word voyant looked fun).

According to their getting started page, Voyant Tools is a “web-based text reading and analysis environment.” What that means is it examines a collection of texts — which can be any sample of texts you upload or any preexisting collection — to determine a variety of text-related data, such as the frequency of certain terms. It then provides you with that information through different means of presentation, such as a word cloud or a line graph.

Another interesting feature of Voyant Tools is the ability to search for specific words or phrases used in the text collection, whether specific or a general concept, and then have those instances of the word or phrase listed. That’s not all! The search results also give the context for the word or phrase, giving more of a syntactic approach versus a simple word search.

You can also save your corpus (collection of texts and results) by bookmarking the URL, which can also be shared with other people.

I used Voyant Tools to analyze a collection of feature stories I’ve written for another class this semester. While I didn’t find much in the way of interesting results (I was mostly using my portfolio as a way to explore the technology), the tool itself has great potential. For example, you can use a text analysis tool like Voyant Tools to examine the evolution of a word over time, examining its usage and meaning via newspapers, books, or other texts. The visual elements like the word clouds add to these results by giving an artful representation of the data that is easy to understand at a glance. All of this could be used to support an argument about the history of a word or some such thing.

From a cultural heritage standpoint, text mining and data visualization through technology like Voyant Tools would greatly speed up the process of combing through texts for key words, their contexts, and the significance they had within the collection of texts. Without the tedious task of leafing through each text individually, researchers can take leaps and bounds forward in their projects rather than baby steps.

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