Words Lesson Plan 1- 1101

An introduction to using computers to analyze large amounts of text, or distant reading.

We are using a website that processes large quantities of data. If all students use the website at once, it will crash.

If you are comfortable installing software on your computer and have the rights to do so, directions for how to install Voyant are here.

Learning objectives:

Student will be able to:

  1. Enter URLs or text into Voyant.

  2. Demonstrate an understanding of the Voyant tool.

  3. Use stopwords.

  4. Demonstrate that they can draw conclusions based on their use of Voyant.

1. Distant vs. close reading. A lesson using historical religious and popular culture texts.

Most reading we do is “close reading.” We read each word, place each word in the sentence or context, and then create meaning out of the words all strung together. For example, “today, I ate cake.” You must read those words in context and in an order to undertand those words.

Sometimes, we read in ways that aren’t so “close.” For example, if you go to a weather website, and look up the forecast, you don’t read all the words in their context. You scan for the information you need, and ignore the rest. This is the first step to distant reading: recognizing that not all information included in a text is relevant and looking only for the material (or data) that is important.

For part of the Words module, we’re going to use distant reading websites to analyze large amounts of text. For example, below I’ve place a URL of the entire text of the Mahabarata, the other great Indian epic (along with the Ramayanal) into Voyant. This tool counts words and looks for patterns. It is almost impossible to count words in large numbers for multiple books as a human, but computers can do it for us. This is what “distant reading” means: humans are away from the texts and computers “hold” and manipulate the texts.

Distant vs. close reading. A lesson using historical religious and popular culture texts.
Distant vs. close reading. A lesson using historical religious and popular culture texts.

2. The entire Mahabarata, by its words and numbers.

I clicked “Reveal” and Voyant has now analyzed the entire text, and counted every word, generating what we call a word cloud. A word cloud shows the words used most often in a text. More popular words or symbols are bigger. in the word cloud below, “said,” “great,” “continued,” and “like” are the most popular, which is useless to us. So, we need to tell Voyant to edit out those common words. We call common words we don’t want “stop words.”

The entire Mahabarata, by its words and numbers.
The entire Mahabarata, by its words and numbers.

3. Editing stopwords

I clicked on the switch icon below the word cloud and it will give me the option to edd Stopwords.

Editing stopwords
Editing stopwords

4. Select Edit List and make sure “Apply Globally” is checked

You can also manually add words for voyant to ignore by clicking on “Edit List.”

Select Edit List and make sure "Apply Globally" is checked
Select Edit List and make sure "Apply Globally" is checked

5. Add any words to the list that you don’t want.

Here I’ve added “said,” “unto,” “hath,” and “continued,” and several other common words, hitting the return key after each word and then hitting “Save” and then “Confirm.”