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Assignment Ideas: Textual Analysis

New digital tools give users the opportunity to interact with and manipulate digital text with greater ease than ever before. The tools listed below can support the digital composition process from invention and drafting to peer response and revision. Since textual analysis projects are motivated by the same ethos as participatory politics and citizen media, they take on features of tactical media assignments. Students are transformed from passive consumers of web-based text into active textual producers through markup software. Markup software enables students to intervene in digital texts, publish their interventions to the web, and then participate in a networked conversation about their texts. By collaborating on drafts, annotating digital verbal and visual texts, and crowdsourcing interpretation, students are transformed into culture producers. Furthermore, markup and textual analysis software emphasize the links and patterns between texts, which can be advantageous to participatory and multilingual classrooms.


Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Julie Meloni. "Wordles, or the gateway drug to textual analysis."

George Williams. "Using Wordle in the Classroom"

In my language and literature courses, I’ve just begun to introduce a bit of visualization into my teaching. Below, I explain step-by-step how we used Wordle in my senior-level eighteenth-century British literature course last year. For most of the semester, we proceeded along a path that would probably be perceived as more “traditional” for a literature course: occasional lectures, class discussions, student presentations, film clips of adaptations. In one unit, however, I showed students how to work with visualization as part of our analysis and discussion of two poems.
Erin Templeton. "Wordle Revisited."
As an English professor, textual analysis is one of the most fundamental skills that I teach, and as a result, it can feel like the bane of my existence. The source of my frustration (and that of my students) is trying to get from summary and/or description to analysis. Students are often very good at describing what is happening in a text, but it can be very hard for them to break out of this habit and think about language in other ways. Enter Wordle.
" Mark Sample's "Zen Scavenger Essay Writing" 2009/04/14/zen-scavenger-essay-writing/
Sample gives a few examples of ways to Wordle creatively. I particularly like this assignment: the professor creates a Wordle cloud out of a scholarly essay, and the students work collaboratively to reconstruct the original publication. So, here’s a word cloud generated from Rachel Adam’s essay in Twentieth Century Literature 53.3 (2007) on Tropic of Orange, “The Ends of American, the Ends of Postmodernism”:

Could a group of students reconstruct an essay out of this word cloud? And then persuade me and their classmates, through an overlay of textual and spoken improvisation, that their new essay is in fact a faithful recreation of the original?

Other Textual Analysis

Geoffrey Rockwell "What is Textual Analysis"

TAPoR: Text Analysis Portal for Research

TAPoR Portal Recipes describe common or interesting sequences of actions, which might be helpful while constructing assignments. The recipes are organized into three categories: location and identification of ideas, themes or specific terms; analysis of textual devices or themes; or the construction of new entities or corpus.


Prism is a tool for "crowdsourcing interpretation." Users are invited to provide an interpretation of a text by highlighting words according to different categories, or "facets." Each individual interpretation then contributes to the generation of a visualization, which demonstrates the combined interpretation of all the users.
Stanford Literary Lab.
The Stanford Literary Lab hosts a variety of literary research of a “digital and quantitative nature.” Founded by Matthew Jockers and Franco Moretti, the lab archives a variety of projects that use quantitative analysis to test hypotheses about massive sets of literary data. Moretti’s concept of “Distance Reading” and emphasis on literary analysis via graphs, maps, and charts supports tool such as Prism, Timeline, Maps.


Crocodoc permits users to upload, share, and annotate various forms of online documents. Instructors can create folders, tag them as public, and give students a link to submit their papers. Once uploaded, every member of the class can see everyone else’s work for annotation, collaboration, and peer review. Unlike Google Docs, Crocodoc texts are frozen upon upload. This allows users to comment on a static draft, without the author’s ability to change things as or after they comment. It’s a good tool to mark the changes that occur between drafts. –Pete Rorabaugh
Markup lets you draw on any webpage with a variety of tools to express your thoughts, make a point, or share ideas. Once you Get Markup, you can draw any time by clicking your bookmarklet or using your native browser extension. When the toolbar loads, start drawing. Publish to share your thoughts with others.

faculty/assignments/assignment_ideas/textual_analysis.txt · Last modified: 2015/06/04 19:26 (external edit)