Introduction to Digital Humanities

RELI/ENGL 39, Fall 2015, University of the Pacific

Voyant and its merit as a research assistant

It is fair to say that we have all likely written our fair share of research papers throughout both our high school and college careers. One of the challenges of writing a research paper often can be finding sources that meet the requirements for the needed quality of the source, as well as the obvious need for the source to contain the relevant information that you are actually looking for, and also that the information that you find in the source fits the tone of your paper. The ability to recruit a computer program to read the source, and subsequently decipher if it contains this relevant information without actually physically reading the source yourself, can be an extremely valuable method to save time, and reduce frustration, when it comes to writing these papers. This is where Voyant comes in, a computer program that you can use to “read” the material for you and then filter the material using keywords to determine if the source will or will not work for what you are looking for.

To use an example using the text we were provided, if one wanted to write a research paper pertaining to sermons where Lincoln was mentioned, and you happened to have a large source of digital transcripts of these sermons, you could in essence have the program read all of these sermons for you. The benefit to this would be the ability filter out individual sermons, or individual lines in the sermons, which contained information that you were looking for, without having to read hundreds of thousands of words yourself, undoubtedly saving you an immense amount of time and frustration. For example, if you wanted to see the data on how many times the word “justice” appeared in the sermons, the program could give you a detailed breakdown on how many times the word appeared in each work, and which works it appeared most frequently in.



Using this chart above, it is clear that if you were looking for a sermon where the word “justice” was used, you would obviously know where and where not to start when you were looking for relevant information on the topic based on the spikes in the graph above.

I think that personally I would use Voyant in the future for a research paper for one key reason. That reason being that many of the sources I tend to use are digital sources, which I believe, thanks to the scope of the internet, likely all of us rely on today. The ability to quickly paste URLs or text into the Voyant box and determine the usefulness of a few sources at a time without fully reading them beforehand would be something that I know would save me a lot of time when it comes to evaluating if I can, or want to, use a particular source in my paper. In closing, I believe that Voyant can be a valuable research assistant, as long as you have a clear understanding of what you are looking for in a particular document.


  1. I agree that one of the best use for this tool is for a research paper. This tool is an great option for trying to find a good source without getting discouraged or frustrated by reading the whole text. The simplicity of the tool is a great aspect, so anyone can use it.

  2. I also agree that Voyant could be a valuable tool in research projects because it gives a quick analysis in what articles are about. This method is helpful when people have a lot of articles to read.

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