Voyant is a tool which provides many ways to analyze texts. Through its Cirrus, Reader, Trends, Summary, and Contexts sections, which are interconnected, users have the opportunity to examine texts in detail.
To begin working with Voyant, one needs to go to the site and download a text. The options are to use the web-based version, with the link above, or to download a version ( http://docs.voyant-tools.org/resources/run-your-own/voyant-server/ ) However, if the user anticipates needing to embed the visualizations from Voyant, the web-based version is the best option.
Once the corpus, as the text is called, is on Voyant, there are many ways to learn more about it. Whether one prefers to learn from texts, through visual examples, or by a combination of the two, Voyant has much to offer.
For example, the WPA Slave Narratives include interviews with former slaves from several states. Voyant provides many ways to explore the documents as a group and as individual documents. In addition, there are several ways to compare and contrast the documents.
On the top left of the Voyant page is the Cirrus section. The Cirrus word cloud will show the most frequently used words in the entire corpus. To see fewer words, one may use the sliding scale by the word Terms at the bottom of the section. The icons on the top right of this section, and each section, allow the user to export, to use another tool in that location, or to define options. The define options area has predetermined stop words, but it is possible to add to or delete from this section. For the WPA Slave Narratives, there were many words to add to the stop word list. Once they were deleted, the word cloud changed. In addition to the Word cloud in this section, it is possible to use the Terms tool, which lists the words in order from most frequent to least frequent. A third option is to use the Links feature to see the connections between these words. Once a change is made here, the Trend graph section changes. For example, when the word old is linked to man (http://voyant-tools.org/?corpus=2d0c91a1da599627fea6d35d607795a0&mode=corpus&stopList=keywords-045eaa9e82dab962d17caf2d91fce83a&view=CollocatesGraph ), the Trends section of the page created a graph of the relative frequency of the use of that word in documents from different states ( http://voyant-tools.org/?corpus=2d0c91a1da599627fea6d35d607795a0&stopList=keywords-045eaa9e82dab962d17caf2d91fce83a&query=%22old%20man%22~5&bins=17&docIndex=4&view=Trends )
If the user decides to focus on one state, he or she will need to select Scale, at the bottom of the section, then select Documents. From there the user would see a list of the states. Selecting one will change the Word cloud and associated documents.
The Reader section, which is the middle of the top row, provides the actual text of the document. It works well to use the Reader section, in tandem with the other sections. For example, if a user goes to the Summary section and selects the word wamble from the Indiana Distinctive Words section, the word will appear in the Contexts section. Within the Context section, users may see how the word is used in the document as it is used each time. By clicking on the word in its first use in the Context section, the word will be highlighted throughout the Reader section. This way, it is easy to find the times that the word is used in the document. In addition, a graph of the word’s use will appear at the bottom of the Reader section and, in this example, wamble would appear in the Trend graph section ( http://voyant-tools.org/?corpus=2d0c91a1da599627fea6d35d607795a0&query=WAMBLE&bins=17&docIndex=4&mode=document&view=Trends ). This graph lets the viewer know that wamble is not a word used frequently in other states. It’s also possible to narrow the graph down to just the state in question.
Voyant does have some bugs during the export process. For example, when trying to export Trend graphs for words used in individual states, the Trend graph one may see on the main Voyant screen exports as the graph for all of the states. However, it is possible to export the visualization itself and save a png screen shot. At another point, the main Trend graph screen may just disappear. It will be necessary to reload information and start again. While there are a few bugs, Voyant is more than worth the patience it takes to get the information one needs about texts.
In addition to being very useful for history based projects, Voyant also serves as an excellent tool for teaching composition. For example, my students were reading the “On the Three Most Important Words in the English Language” section in the Connecting chapter of Miller and Jurecic’s Habits of the Creative Mind. This section discusses the importance of the words and, but, and or in writing. Practice Session Two at the end of the section requires the students to read Coates’s essay “Fear of a Black President.” Once the students had read the essay, I used Voyant to show them how often those words had been used in the essay, and how Coates had used them. I went to the stop words and deleted those three words from the list. Once I did that, the Cirrus word cloud showed and as the largest word and but as another very large word. Or was not immediately evident, but it was possible to trace it through the Terms feature in the word cloud area. I showed the students how to view the words in context in the Reader and Contexts sections. In addition to coming to understand the Coates text better, my students learned a way to analyze both their own writing and the works that they read.
Anyone who wishes to analyze a text, large or small, in many different ways should take advantage of what Voyant has to offer.
Miller, Richard E. and Ann Jurecic, Habits of the Creative Mind. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016.