ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Here’s One Thing You Need to See, Analyzing Words Upon a Tree

Posted by Plish on August 20, 2013

Great innovations occur when we can see things in ways that others haven’t.

To that end, we study people, their behaviors, what they say, and what they do.

When looking through the research, sometimes it’s difficult to tease out anything new.  We get stuck in the superficial meanings of what people think.  To get deeper, we need to change our perspectives, we need to create ways of seeing the data anew.

One common tool is the ‘Word Cloud’. It does a great job of enabling us to graphically understand the frequency of certain words in a body of textual data.  The bigger the word, the more frequently it appears in a text.

For example, here is a word cloud of the Gettysburg Address.

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We can see that the words “nation”, and, “dedicated” are very predominate in the speech.  What we can’t understand though, are the contexts of these words.

Enter the Word Tree.

Word Trees enable us to see the context, understand where words are going and where they came from.

For a while, finding a free Word Tree analysis tool was pretty difficult.   However, developers have been busy and there is a new player on the block.  Jason Davies has shared his wonderful Word Tree tool here. Feel free to plug in your own text or play with the many examples that are there. (You can also enter a hyperlink to analyze web pages or Twitter feeds!)

Let’s use the tool on the Gettysburg Address and look at the word “nation”. (You can play with the Address I uploaded, here.)  What I like about Jason Davies’ tool is that you can configure the tool to show the context of what comes after the word of choice, or what comes before. Here’s an example:

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There are other Word Tree tools out there, Many Eyes, and Revelation Global.  The latter incorporates a limited word cloud into the page which is somewhat helpful, but the page is cluttered and it’s hard to move around.  Plus, there’s no way of saving the output.  Both Many Eyes and Revelation Global require registration.

I encourage you to give Jason Davies’ Word Tree a whirl. Let me know what you think.  But be warned, playing with Word Trees can be extremely engaging.  Make sure there are no deadlines looming – unless of course, those deadlines deal with understanding textual data.

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