Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Text Metrics

Technique Tuesday

Motivational business rhetoric is full of old saws like, "if you can't measure it, you can't improve it." While true in straightforward situations  like how many widgets per hour come off an assembly line, as we stray from the purely quantitative realm into the qualitative wild lands, metrics become more nebulous--and in some cases do more harm than good.

So, in full knowledge of their debatable benefits, let's look at some of the text metric tools you can use to improve your understanding of your manuscript.

Word count is the most important metric for queries. Microsoft Word 2010 has a running word count in the status bar. With earlier versions, File|Info (Alt-F, I) brings up the Document Properties dialog where you can view the Statistics tab. (The same dialog is available in Word 2010 via File|Info|Properties|Advanced Properties.) OpenOffice/LibreOffice has a Word Count item in the Tools menu.

Metrics are most useful for comparison. You can use the tools at Renaissance Learning to look up the word counts of published books like yours to see if your manuscript is in the right ball park.

There are a number of other web-based tools like the word frequency and phrase frequency counters at writewords.org.

The good folks at UsingEnglish.com have an advanced text analyzer for members in the Tools area (there is no charge to register and by doing so you can store and compare up to twenty texts.). They offer everything from overall readability to word and phrase frequency.* It's a rich resource geared toward eduactors.

Textalyser.net is a simpler site that offers a similar set of metrics and doesn't require registration.

And if that's not enough, you can have the Gender Genie predict the gender of the author implied by your text.

While none of these tools will guarantee publication, it's worth your while to see what insights you can glean. At very least, run some representative chapters through the tools that show word and phrase frequency and see if you have a problem with pet words.

One final caution: while it's highly unlikely that anyone will appropriate your manuscript if you enter it in one of the web-based tools, there's no need to analyze more than a few chapters to get a good sense of what's going on with your text.

* UsingEnglish lists the following features for their advanced text analyzer: "General Statistics, Readability Ststistics, Word Analysis (Distribution, Length, Frequency, Word Cloud, Hard Words), Phrase Analysis, Lexicon Analysis, and Graded Text Analysis."

Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net