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Dictionary-Based Classification
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Dictionary-Based Classification

N.B.: The pictures shown in this section have been obtained by using a previous version of T-LAB. These pictures look slightly different in T-LAB 10. In particular, starting from the 2021 version, a new feature allows one to easily test any model on labeled data (e.g. data which includes themes obtained from a previous qualitative analysis) and obtain outputs like confusion matrices and precision/recall metrics (see picture below).

This T-LAB tool allows the user to perform an automated classification of lexical units (i.e. words and lemmas, including multi-word phrases) or context units (i.e. sentences, paragraphs and short documents) present in a text collection (i.e. a corpus) according to a set of categories costructed by the researcher.

Depending on the type of categories used, such a classification may be considered a classical content analysis or a lexicon-based sentiment analysis. Moreover, as the analysis process can create new variables and category dictionaries which can be exported and re-imported in further analysis projects, such a tool allows the user to explore the same corpus from varied perspectives as well as analyse two or more text collections by using the same models.

Here are some examples of possible uses of this tool:

- automated coding of open-ended surveys;
- top-down analysis of political speeches;
- sentiment analysis of customer comments;
- verification of psychotherapy processes;
- validation of methods for qualitative content analysis.

Below is a short description of the four main phases of the analysis process, which are, however, independent one from the other. In fact, the researcher can also use this tool just for customizing his dictionaries or for exploring his data set.


The starting points and the corresponding input types of the pre-processing phase can be three:

1 - a ready-made dictionary in the appropriate format is already available (see all related information in the 'E' section of this document). In this case just click the 'Import your Dictionary' button (see below);

2 - a dictionary has to be distilled from sample texts or word lists made up by the user. In this case just type or copy/paste the sample texts into the appropriate box (one sample for each category, one after the other, max 100,000 characters each);

3 - a dictionary has to be distilled from the categories of a variable resulting from a previous content analysis. In this case just click the 'Select a Variable' button and make the appropriate choices (see below).

According to the above three cases, before performing the classification of selected textual units, T-LAB works in the following ways:

1 - the ready-made dictionary is transformed into a contingency table. Subsequently the user can explore such a table in various ways (see the 'C' section of this document); moreover, by selecting each category, he can remove one or more of the corresponding items (see the below picture).

2 - when sample texts are inserted in the appropriate box, after clicking the 'Automatic List' button (see '1' below), T-LAB performs a specific kind of lemmatization which uses only the vocabulary of the selected corpus (see the list of available items on the left of image below), then it transforms each text into a word list the items of which can be selected and deselected. Subsequently, in order to validate each word list (i.e. each category of your dictionary), just click the 'Use Your List' button (see '2' below). All the above operations must be repeated for each category of the dictionary, then the user can perform all operations described in the 'C' section of this document.

3 - when a variable resulting from a previous content analysis is selected, T-LAB makes available the corresponding term-category contingency table and the user can perform all operations of 'Data Exploration' (see the 'C' section of this document).


After clicking the 'Execute Classification' button (see the above picture), depending on the type of corpus under analysis, the user can make the following choices:

At this stage, if the user decides to classify words, no further choices are available; in fact, in such a case, the occurrences of each word (i.e. the word tokens) are simply counted as occurrences of the corresponding category. For example, if a category of our dictionary is 'religion' and this includes words like 'faith' and 'prayer', when analysing a document which contains the above two words, T-LAB simply groups their occurrences (e.g. 2 occurrences of 'faith' and 3 occurrences of 'prayer' = 5 occurrences of 'religion').

Differently, when the user decides to classify context units (i.e. 'elementary contexts' like sentences and paragraphs or 'documents'), T-LAB considers both the dictionary categories and the context units to be classified as co-occurrence profiles (i.e. term vectors) and then calculates their similarity measures. To this purpose, the co-occurrence profiles can be filtered by a 'T-LAB list' (i.e. all key-words which occurrence values are greater than or equal to the minimum threshold of 4) or a by 'user's list' (e.g. all key-words resulting from a customized settings) which, however, can sometimes be equal. Moreover in such cases T-LAB allows the user to exclude from the analysis any context unit that doesn't contain a minimum number of key-words included in the list which is being used (see above the 'co-occurrences within context units' parameter).

In detail, when classifying context units, T-LAB performs the following steps:

a) normalization of the 'seed vectors' corresponding to the 'k' categories (i.e. column profiles) of dictionary used;
b) normalizations of term vectors corresponding to the context units analysed;
c) computation of the Cosine similarity and Euclidean distance between each 'i' context unit and each 'k' seed vector of the dictionary used;
d) assignment of each 'i' context unit to the 'k' class or category for which the corresponding seed is the closest. (N.B.: In all cases there must be a correspondence between the maximum Cosine similarity and the minimum Euclidean distance of each 'context unit'/'category' pair, otherwise T-LAB considers the 'i' context unit as 'unclassified').

In other words, in the above case T-LAB uses a sort of K-means clustering where the 'k' centroids have a priori patterns and they are not updated during the analysis process.
Being a top-down classification, in such a case the quality of the analysis results will depend on two main factors:
1 - the 'relevance' of the dictionary used for the analysed corpus;
2 - the 'discriminant' capacity of the categories used.
In fact, if the optimum of the above characteristics is reached, both the 'precision' and the 'recall' parameters (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precision_and_recall ) have values between 80% and 95%.
Please note that, at the moment, T-LAB doesn't take into account negations. So, when doing sentiment analysis, a sentence like 'Do not hate your enemy' can be classified as 'negative'. Advanced users can manage this issue during the corpus importation (see the use of stop-word and multiword lists). For example, the word phrase 'do not hate' can be transformed into 'do_not_hate' and consequently included in the 'positive' category'.


Any data exploration activity uses contingency tables where both the dictionaries and the results of the classification process can be represented.

Depending on the textual units classified - respectively (a) 'words', (b) 'elementary contexts' or (c) 'documents' - the cells of such tables contain the following values:
a) number of occurrences of each word (i.e. the 'i' row) which, within the analysed corpus or a subset of it, has been assigned to a predefined category (i.e. the 'j' column). So, in such a case, words belonging to two or more predefined categories have the same values repeated in the corresponding columns;
b) number of elementary contexts, which contain the word in the 'i' row, assigned to a given category (i.e. the 'j' column);
c) number of occurrences of each word (i.e. the 'i' row) within the documents assigned to each category (i.e. the 'j' column).

By clicking their respective check-boxes, it is possible to check the occurrence contexts of each listed word (N.B.: this option is available only for the 'b' case above, for which you click the appropriate cell) as well as to create customized charts concerning each item of the tables (N.B.: In the examples below some categories of the Harvard IV-4 dictionary have been applied to the analysis of inaugural addresses of US presidents).


In order to plot charts with multiple data series, just choose 'Multiple Selection' ('Yes' option), select up to 20 items and click the 'Plot your chart' button (see below).

The above two options are also available for tables with variable values.

The percentage of categories can be appreciated in various ways (see below)


It is also possible to explore the data structure by using the 'MDS' or the 'Correspondence Analysis' tool (see below).


Only in the case where context units have been classified it is possible to obtain and export two more outputs; moreover, in such a case, it is possible to save the analysis results in a new variable and pursue the data exploration with other T-LAB tools.

For example, by clicking the 'HTML Report' button it is possible to visualize some results of the classification process where the 'elementary contexts' or the 'documents' are assigned to their respective category with a Cosine similarity score (see the images below concerning a corpus of documents containing short descriptions of companies).


Similar data can be exported in .XLS files (see below) with all the information regarding the elementary contexts ('Context_Classification.xls') or the documents ('Document_Classification.xls') which have been correctly classified;

(1) - Context_Classification.xls

(2) - Document_Classification.xls


When the classification process is over, two further options are available:

- 'Export Your Dictionary', which creates a ready-made dictionary to be imported by other T-LAB tools for Thematic Analysis;
- 'Further T-LAB Analyses', which, depending on the structure of the corpus analysed, on the kind of classification performed and on the number of categories used, makes a new variable for further T-LAB tools available (see below).

Below is an example obtained by analysing a 'subset' of classified contexts by means of the Word Associations tool (see the T-LAB main menu).


Here is all the information about the format of dictionaries which can be imported by this T-LAB tool:
- they are plain text files with a '.dictio' extension (e.g. Mycategories.dictio);
- all dictionaries created by T-LAB thematic tools, including those created by the Dictionary-Based Classification, are ready to be imported and no further user intervention is required;
- other dictionaries, either 'standard' or customized must be saved by following the guidelines below:

1- they can include up to 100,000 records (i.e. lines), each consisting of strings separated by semicolons (e.g. economic;loan);
2- for each line, the first string must be a 'category', the second a 'word' (or lemma), the third - if present - must be a positive real number (i.e. a integer) from '1' to '999' which represents the 'weight' of each word within the corresponding category;
3- the maximum length of a string (word, lemma or category) is 50 characters: neither blank spaces no apostrophes can be included;
4- when multi-word phrases are included, blank spaces must be replaced by the underscore ('_') character (e.g. Federal_Government);
5- the number of categories used can vary from 2 (minimum) to 50 (maximum). When the number of categories is higher than 50 it is advisable to use a different format and import the dictionary by the Dictionary Building tool (see the 'Lexical Tools' sub-menu of T-LAB). In such a case there must be univocal correspondence between each single word and the corresponding category.

The following are two excerpts from T-LAB .dictio files, with two or three strings per line respectively:

a) case with two strings (i.e. categories and words only)



b) case with three strings (i.e. categories, words and numbers)