MY459 Special Topics in Quantitative Analysis: Quantitative Text Analysis

Lent Term 2018


Teaching Assistant

Course Information

No lectures or classes will take place during School Reading Week 6.

Week Topic Week Topic
1 Overview and Fundamentals 7 Supervised Scaling Models for Texts
2 Descriptive Statistical Methods for Text Analysis 8 Unsupervised Models for Scaling Texts
3 Quantitative Methods for Comparing Texts 9 Similarity and Clustering Methods
4 Automated Dictionary Methods 10 Topic models
5 Machine Learning for Texts 11 Working with Social Media
6 Reading Week    

Course Description

The course surveys methods for systematically extracting quantitative information from political text for social scientific purposes, starting with classical content analysis and dictionary-based methods, to classification methods, and state-of-the-art scaling methods and topic models for estimating quantities from text using statistical techniques. The course lays a theoretical foundation for text analysis but mainly takes a very practical and applied approach, so that students learn how to apply these methods in actual research. The common focus across all methods is that they can be reduced to a three-step process: first, identifying texts and units of texts for analysis; second, extracting from the texts quantitatively measured features—such as coded content categories, word counts, word types, dictionary counts, or parts of speech—and converting these into a quantitative matrix; and third, using quantitative or statistical methods to analyse this matrix in order to generate inferences about the texts or their authors. The course systematically covers these methods in a logical progression, with a practical, hands-on approach where each technique will be applied using appropriate software to real texts.


The course is also designed to cover many fundamental issues in quantitative text analysis such as inter-coder agreement, reliability, validation, accuracy, and precision. It focuses on methods of converting texts into quantitative matrixes of features, and then analysing those features using statistical methods. The course briefly covers the qualitative technique of human coding and annotation but only for the purposes of creating a validation set for automated approaches. These automated approaches include dictionary construction and application, classification and machine learning, scaling models, and topic models. For each topic, we will systematically cover published applications and examples of these methods, from a variety of disciplinary and applied fields but focusing on political science. Lessons will consist of a mixture of theoretical grounding in content analysis approaches and techniques, with hands on analysis of real texts using content analytic and statistical software.


Students must have completed Applied Regression Analysis (MY452) or equivalent.

Students in this course will strongly benefit from prior experience with the R statistical package. All methods will be implemented in R, using primarily the (instructor’s) R package quanteda available from and from CRAN.


Summative Assignments

Five lab sessions on the indicated weeks will consist of supervised problem sets. After each lab, assignments will be posted. These will involve computer exercises applied to texts supplied by the instructor. These will be submitted via GitHub Classroom prior to the next lecture, and will be marked to provide 60% of the course grade.

Summative Project

A final project of 3,000 words will be due at the end of ST, and form 40% of the course grade. This will be an original analysis of texts using some of the methods covered in class, and may focus on replicating or extending a published work. Additional guidelines will be issued about a third of the way through the class. The final lab will consist of brief student presentations of their topics.

There is no really good single textbook that exists to cover computerized or quantitative text analysis, although Ken Benoit is currently (slowly) writing one, entitled (The Quantitative Analysis of Textual Data).

While not ideally fitting our core purpose, Krippendorf’s classic Content Analysis — just updated — is a good primer for manual methods of content analysis and coverage of some of the same fundamentals faced in quantitative text analysis.

Other readings will consist of articles and book excerpts, which I will make available on Moodle as pdf files.


Week 1. Overview and fundamentals

This session will cover fundamentals, including the continuum from traditional (non-computer assisted) content analysis to fully automated quantitative text analysis. We will cover the conceptual foundations of content analysis and quantitative content analysis, discuss the objectives, the approach to knowledge, and the particular view of texts when performing quantitative analysis. We will also discuss issues including where to obtain textual data; formatting and working with text files; indexing and meta-data; units of analysis; and definitions of features and measures commonly extracted from texts, including stemming, and stop-words.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format


Further Reading:

Week 2: Descriptive statistical methods for text analysis

Here we focus on quantitative methods for describing texts, focusing on summary measures that highlight particular characteristics of documents and allowing these to be compared. These methods include characterizing texts through concordances, co-occurrences, and keywords in context; complexity and readability measures; and an in-depth discussion of text types, tokens, and equivalencies. We will also discuss weighting strategies for features, such as tf-idf.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format


Further Reading:


Week 3: Quantitative methods for comparing texts

Quantitative methods for comparing texts, through concordances and keyword identification, dissimilarity measures, association models, and vector-space models.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format


Further Reading:

Week 4: Automated dictionary methods

Automatic dictionary-based methods involve association of pre-defined word lists with particular quantitative values assigned by the researcher for some characteristic of interest. This topic covers the design model behind dictionary construction, including guidelines for testing and refining dictionaries. Hand-on work will cover commonly used dictionaries such as LIWC, RID, and the Harvard IV-4, with applications. We will also review a variety of text pre-processing issues and textual data concepts such as word types, tokens, and equivalencies, including word stemming and trimming of words based on term and/or document frequency.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format


Further Reading:


Week 5: Machine Learning for Texts

Classification methods permit the automatic classification of texts in a test set following machine learning from a training set. We will introduce machine learning methods for classifying documents, including one of the most popular classifiers, the Naive Bayes model. The topic also introduces validation and reporting methods for classifiers and discusses where these methods are applicable.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format


Further Reading:

Week 7: Supervised Scaling Models for Texts

Building on the Naive Bayes classifier, we introduce the “Wordscores” method of Laver, Benoit and Garry (2003) for scaling latent traits, and show the link between classification and scaling.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format

Class example: Supervised scaling examples


Further Reading:


Week 8: Unsupervised Models for Scaling Texts

This session continues text scaling using unsupervised scaling methods, based on parametric approaches modelling features as Poisson distributed (Wordfish and Wordshoal) or non-parametric approaches such as correspodence analysis. We will also discuss vector representation of words as an alternative way to construct document-feature matrices, with particular attention to word embeddings as a popular type of vector space representation.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format

Class example: Unsupervised scaling examples


Further Reading:

Week 9: Similarity and clustering methods

Vector representations of documents, measuring distance and similarity, hierarchical and k-means clustering. This topic also revisits feature selection and weighting methods, especially tf-idf.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format


Further Reading:


Week 10: Topic models

This session will teach how to automatically classify documents into unknown categories using topic models. We will learn how to run the parametric Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) model and the Structural Topic Model (STM), which allows researchers to use covariates to learn about the prevalence and content of topics.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format


Further Reading:

Week 11: Working with Social Media

Social media such as micro-blogging site Twitter provide a wealth of spontaneous, distributed, real-time text that can be used to analyze almost any topic. We introduce the growing literature applying text analysis techniques to this form of data, with examples for measuring sentiment, networks, and locational information.

Lecture Materials: Link to slides in PDF format


Further Reading:



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Beauchamp, N. 2017. “Predicting and Interpolating State‐Level Polls Using Twitter Textual Data.” American Journal of Political Science, 61(2), 490-503.

Beil, F, M Ester and X Xu. 2002. Frequent term-based text clustering. In Eighth ACM SIGKDD international conference on Knowledge discovery and data mining. pp. 436–442.

Benoit, K. and M. Laver. 2008. “Compared to What? A Comment on ‘A Robust Transformation Procedure for Interpreting Political Text’ by Martin and Vanberg.” Political Analysis 16(1):101–111. doi: 10.1093/pan/mpm020.

Benoit, Kenneth and Paul Nulty. 2013. “Classification Methods for Scaling Latent Political Traits.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 11–14, Chicago.

Blei, David M. 2012. “Probabilistic topic models.” Communications of the ACM 55(4):77. doi: 10.1145/2133806.2133826.

Blei, D.M., A.Y. Ng and M.I. Jordan. 2003. “Latent dirichlet allocation.” The Journal of Machine Learning Research 3:993–1022.

Chang, J., J. Boyd-Graber, S. Gerrish, C. Wang and D. Blei. 2009. Reading tea leaves: How humans interpret topic models. In Neural Information Processing Systems.

Choi, Seung-Seok, Sung-Hyuk Cha and Charles C. Tappert. 2010. “A Survey of Binary Similarity and Distance Measures.” Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics 8(1):43–48.

Clinton, J., S. Jackman and D. Rivers. 2004. “The statistical analysis of roll call voting: A unified approach.” American Journal of Political Science 98(2):355–370. doi: 10.1017/s0003055404001194.

Corley, Courtney and Rada Mihalcea. 2005. Measuring the semantic similarity of texts. In Proceedings of the ACL Workshop on Empirical Modeling of Semantic Equivalence and Entailment - EMSEE ’05.

Däubler, Thomas, Kenneth Benoit, Slava Mikhaylov and Michael Laver. 2012. “Natural Sentences as Valid Units for Coded Political Texts.” British Journal of Political Science 42(4):937–951. doi: 10.1017/S0007123412000105.

DuBay, William. 2004. The Principles of Readability. Costa Mesa, California.

Dunning, Ted. 1993. “Accurate methods for the statistics of surprise and coincidence.” Computational Linguistics 19:61–74.

Evans, Michael, Wayne McIntosh, Jimmy Lin and Cynthia Cates. 2007. “Recounting the Courts? Applying Automated Content Analysis to Enhance Empirical Legal Research.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 4(4):1007–1039.

Gilardi, F., Shipan, C. R., & Wueest, B. 2017. “Policy Diffusion: The Issue-Definition Stage.” Working paper, University of Zurich.

Ginsberg, Jeremy, Matthew H Mohebbi, Rajan S Patel, Lynnette Brammer, Mark S Smolinski and Larry Brilliant. 2008. “Detecting influenza epidemics using search engine query data.” Nature 457(7232):1012–1014.

Grimmer, Justin and Brandon M. Stewart. 2013. “Text as Data: The Promise and Pitfalls of Automatic Content Analysis Methods for Political Texts.” Political Analysis 21(3):267–297. doi: 10.1093/pan/mps028.

James, Gareth, Daniela Witten, Trevor Hastie and Robert Tibshirani. 2013. An Introduction to Statistical Learning with Applications in R. Springer Science & Business Media.

Jürgens, Pascal and Andreas Jungherr. 2016. “A Tutorial for Using Twitter Data in the Social Sciences: Data Collection, Preparation, and Analysis.”

Klašnja, M., Barberá, P., Beauchamp, N., Nagler, J., & Tucker, J. 2016. “Measuring public opinion with social media data.” In The Oxford Handbook of Polling and Survey Methods.

Krippendorff, Klaus. 2013. Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Lampos, Vasileios, Daniel Preotiuc-Pietro and Trevor Cohn. 2013. A user-centric model of voting intention from Social Media. In Proceedings of the 51st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL).

Lantz, Brett. 2013. Machine Learning with R. Packt Publishing Ltd.

Laver, M. and J. Garry. 2000. “Estimating policy positions from political texts.” American Journal of Political Science 44(3):619–634. doi: 10.2307/2669268.

Laver, Michael, Kenneth Benoit and John Garry. 2003. “Estimating the policy positions of political actors using words as data.” American Political Science Review 97(2):311–331. doi: 10.1017/S0003055403000698.

Loughran, Tim and Bill McDonald. 2011. “When Is a Liability Not a Liability? Textual Analysis, Dictionaries, and 10-Ks.” The Journal of Finance 66(1):35–65.

Lowe, W. 2008. “Understanding Wordscores.” Political Analysis 16(4):356–371. doi: 10.1093/pan/mpn004.

Lowe, William and Kenneth Benoit. 2013. “Validating Estimates of Latent Traits From Textual Data Using Human Judgment as a Benchmark.” Political Analysis 21(3):298–313. doi: 10.1093/pan/mpt002.

Lowe, William, Kenneth Benoit, Slava Mikhaylov and Michael Laver. 2011. “Scaling Policy Preferences From Coded Political Texts.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 26(1):123–155. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-9162.2010.00006.x.

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Martin, L. W. and G. Vanberg. 2007. “A robust transformation procedure for interpreting political text.” Political Analysis 16(1):93–100. doi: 10.1093/pan/mpm010.

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