Getting Intimate With Text – Voyant Tools



As the digital age progresses, the way in which we can interpret and present data is transforming. With the help of digital tools and new technologies, information can be digitally visualised in order to improve its aesthetic appeal, as well as its clarity. Text data can be considered as one dimensional and is the simplest method of presenting data. It can be time consuming and impractical to analyse rows of text data. Humans are visual creatures, processing information based on what we see (McCue, 2013). Traditional textual formats of communicating information are changing into a more appealing, clear format of data visualisation.


Voyant Tools, is a web-based project which offers its users a free reading and analysis environment for digital texts. Being an open source project, Voyant Tools is available to anyone who wishes to use it, and it accommodates a number of different languages. There are a number of different tool options that are accessible to users on Voyant 2.0. I decided to visualise the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The reason behind choosing this piece of digital text, was because of the Proclamation’s   significance this year. Ireland commemorated the 100th year anniversary of the 1916 Easter rising.

Using Voyant 2.0, the piece of text could be visualised in many different formats. I firstly viewed the piece of text using the Cirrus option, which is a word cloud that displays the frequency of terms that appear in a piece of digital text.  Terms which occur more frequently appear larger on the word cloud. There is also a summary tool which accompanies the cirrus word cloud. This gives the user exact information on how frequent particular terms appear in their text. The words ‘Irish’, ‘people’ and ’government’ were some of the most frequent terms, apart from words such as ‘The’ and ‘of’, which have no noticeable significance to the matter of the text. For this reason, it is of importance that the user understands their text and its content. While the Cirrus tool visualises the frequency of terms, the user’s understanding of the text’s content is important when analysing their visualisation. One could conclude that since the words ‘Irish’ and ‘people’ were used so frequently, the republic was declaring independence from the United Kingdom for the benefit of the Irish people. Since the majority of Irish people wanted a republic, independent of the United Kingdom, the frequency of these terms might reflect the desires of the Irish people.


Visualising the 1916 Proclamation using the Cirrus tool.

Secondly, the digital text was visualised using the Trends option on Voyant 2.0. This particular option visualises the document in a graph format. The relative frequencies within the piece of text are displayed using a line graph. Each term found within the text is assigned a colour, which then represents that term on the line graph. This tool breaks the document into segments, graphing the frequencies of words in each segment. There is also a key above the graph, showing what word belongs to what colour, I found this to be extremely helpful. The Trends option also allows users to visualise a number of texts on a single graph. This would be beneficial for data comparison purposes. The graph proved to be aesthetically pleasing and could easily be integrated into a project or study.  From visualising the proclamation in a graph format, it can be concluded that the term ‘government’ is of significance within the document. According to the graph, the term ‘government’ was almost consistently frequent within each segment of the text. Since, the terms ‘people’ and ‘right’ are most frequent together in segment 4, it can be concluded that these terms share a relationship. Perhaps an observation that could be made, is that the ‘people’ of Ireland have the ‘right’ to a republic.


Visualising the Proclamation using the Trends tool.


The ‘Links’ tool, displays a network graph of higher frequency terms within the text and words that appear to be related or in proximity to these key words. Key words appear green in colour, while words that are presumed to be linked to these key words appear blue in colour. This tool proves to be very visually pleasing and puts the content of the text into perspective, through linking frequent terms in the text with terms in their proximity. The use of colour also enhances the attraction of this particular tool. It successfully creates a clear and concise visualisation. For example, from viewing my document using the links tool, the term Irish has been linked with, republic, generation, citizen and people. The links made here, present an accurate representation of the content within the document. The links tool could most definitely be utilised in both an academic and business environment. One of the reasons people  visualise numeric or text data is to compare and contrast, exposing the links between information within the data. This tool successfully links terms within my text document, in a simple, clear, coherent manner.


Visualising the 1916 Proclamation using the Links tool.


The TermsRadio tool on Voyant 2.0, uses a graph format to display word occurrence over a period of time within a piece of text. The document is split into segments, the word occurrence within each segment is represented using colours and words themselves. Having analysed my piece of text using the TermsRadio tool, it can be noted that the terms ‘republic’ and ‘arms’ occur the most in segment three of the text, while the term ‘Irish’ occurs almost equally in all segments.The relationship between the terms ‘republic’ and ‘arms’ suggests that even though Ireland did not have the arms to sustain a permanent, National government, a temporary provisional government would suffice. This provisional government would administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic, until they had the appropriate arms to establish a permanent government for the Republic.  One could make various observations from using the TermsRadio tool and apply these back to the context of their data. This tool would be beneficial to those who wish to compare and contrast data within a single document.


Visualising the 1916 Proclamation using the TermsRadio tool.


The Stream Graph is also another tool which visualises data using a graph format. While the other graph formats had used lines to represent the data, this particular one uses shapes accompanied by colour. There is a key available to the user, where the colour which represents each term is shown. Compared to the other graphs, I found this graph to be considerably more difficult to interpret. It appears that the larger the shape, the more frequent a term is. Similarly to the TermsRadio tool, the graph breaks the document into segments. Therefore the shapes on the graph represent the dominance of certain terms within particular segments. Visualising my document through using the Stream Graph was not as clear and concise as the other graphs. Line graphs enable for a more concise, clear interpretation to be made by the user. From analysing this graph, it is clear there are relationships between the terms ‘Irish ‘ and ‘people’. This relationship is reflected by the combination of orange and blue within the shape. Similarly, the terms ‘republic’ and ‘right’ are visualised together, once again, reflecting the content of the proclamation.


Visualising the 1916 Proclamation using the Stream Graph.


Having experimented with Voyant tools, it is evidently a beneficial, innovative resource that promotes the transformation of reading and interpreting text data in a digital environment.  Voyant’s simple approach to visualising text data is what makes it appealing to the everyday user. In terms of what the visualisation process has added to my understanding of the content of the text, I was able to see links and relationships between certain terms more efficiently. The frequency of terms also indicated to me what factors were most important to those proclaiming Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom. To conclude, the entire visualisation process enabled me to understand the content of my document more effectively. It enabled me to compare and contrast terms within the text efficiently.


McCue,T. (2013) Why Infographics Rule. Available at: [Accessed 1 April 2016]