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Word Frequency Analysis as a means to improve writing quality

By John Tello

In the old times of Windows 1.0 back in the 1980's there was a tool called Word

Frequency that came with the MS Word distribution package. As someone who uses English

as a second language I used it heavily, because it helped me to improve my vocabulary

and to correct misspellings beyond the capacity of the available spelling checkers.

That MS Word add-on created a list of all the words in a document, ordered by

frequency. It made it easy to detect overuse and/or abuse of a certain word or

expression. The little used words were also of help, because sometimes I wrote Thomson

instead of Thompson, car instead of cart, or similar errors that the spelling checker

does not detect.

Frequency analysis can also be used as a means to establish the "signature of a

certain author, the cultural level of the writer, its use of slang or technical

jargon, and other writing features. It is possible to extrapolate the number of words

used in a certain text to the total vocabulary of a person. Frequency analysis can

accuse some writers to have the vocabulary of a 10-year-old. Or the word-richness of a

Chinese-born 2nd year English student.

Frequency analysis combined with a synonym dictionary, as provided in currently

available "synonymizer software, can help writers to enrich its lexicon and avoid

abuse of certain expressions.

It is also a means to avoid producing identical text for those who need to make its

text different from a source. For instance, a web content writer that needs to fill

many similar but not identical pages, and students who want to avoid plagiarism

detection and accusation. Rightly or wrongly.

Plagiarism detection also makes use of frequency analysis, because comparison of a

given text with the whole Web contents is a major task, and the detection system does

not know where to look and where to start. Thus, analysing the word frequency can give

some clue on the writing style and the authorship of a given text, without indexing

the whole thing.

Search engines use word frequency to establish the subject of web pages. They

developed complex linguistic analysis in order to classify pages by subject without

human intervention. In turn, webmasters do the same, to try to fool search engines

into assigning high keyword relevance to the pages they create. For instance, using a

word with a 3% frequency gives a text good relevance on that word (or keyword, in a

search engine context). A 10% frequency is still OK, but it is close to "keyword

stuffing", a technique used by webmasters who try to force their websites into the top

places of the search engines. Keyword stuffing is penalized by the search engines, and

needs to be prevented by smart use of synonyms. Either with synonymizer software or

good writing skills.

This article, for instance, has the following Word Frequency :

word : 9, frequency : 7, used : 6, not : 6, search : 6, text: 6, engines: 6, analysis:

5, can: 5, use: 5......

I could have edited the text after the analysis, to avoid intensive use of "word and

"frequency for linguistic purposes. However, it is OK for Search Engine Optimization

purposes (attempting to make this article more findable by Google and Yahoo).

Are there any serious writers that still avoid the use of a wired computer? Probably

not many can avoid using the Web and the search engines to find the correct word, the

most used expression, to perform spelling or grammar checking. Checking word usage in

Google is faster and more efficient than using a dictionary, either in paper, disc or

the Web. The search engines list every word ever written, not only the well-written

words as dictionaries do.

Be prepared to have your texts analysed for word frequency, educational level,

plagiarism, technicality, jargon usage and other parameters, in addition to

old-fashioned spelling.

According to these tendencies, the ultimate challenge for a job candidate would be to

write an essay with paper and pen. Most of us are not prepared to pass such a test.

I expect not to see synonymized versions of this article...

About The Author

John Tello works for a company that makes the Synonymizer software, placed at, which is evolving into a more complex machine-aided writing

tool. He once passed the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), before the PC


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