Use a Concordancing Tool to Learn Something About a Topic


This is a recipe for using Concordance tools to explore a Plain text corpus for topics or key words of interest, and generate a list of terms in Context for later analysis.

  1. A Concordance tool (e.g. Wordsmith, AntConc, Voyant Document KWICs, etc.)
  2. A Plain text version of a text/documents
  3. Search term(s)
  1. Find a Concordance tool such as AntConcMonoConcWordsmith, or use this one: Voyant Document KWICs
  2. Locate a Plain text file of the document(s) or corpus you would like to use. (See how to convert a text from XML to Plain text if necessary).  You can also use Mark Davies online BNC interface which allows you to apply a Concordance tool to the 100 million word British National Corpus.
  3. Download the text file(s) if necessary
  4. Upload your text/corpus to the Concordance tool
  5. Identify a search term or search terms (such as a character’s name, or a phrase)
  6. Identify the contextual parameters of the search term (how many characters or words on either side of the search, search within a sentence or across sentences etc.)
  7. Create a Concordance of the search
  8. Tab separate the search term from the left and right contexts if possible
  9. Export to readable format (spread sheet)
  10. Begin to sort and/or annotate the Concordance lines by adding comments in category columns in the spread sheet
  11. Analyze results
Next steps / further information 

Where to get digitized versions of texts: Project Gutenberg

Case Study 
We wish to explore the search term ‘witch(es)’ in contemporary British usage (spoken and written). Specifically we are interested in what type of objects are described as being possessed by witches in this group. 

In this case we have chosen to use a site that provides both the corpus of contemporary British texts as well as a built-in Concordance tool  (Mark Davies’ online BNC ...). 

We searched on the lemma WITCH (=witch, witches, witch’s, witches’) and chose 100 lines of the Concordance, using the default settings of the interface.

We brought the 100 lines into a spreadsheet with the search word tab-separated from the left and right contexts.

We coded each Concordance line for any noun possessed by the search word, e.g. ‘broomstick’ in “a witch’s broomstick”. 

Results: Objects possessed by witches in our sample set includes: “all of their belongings”, broom, broomstick, cat, “cone of power”, coven, cow, cottage, hat, “microphone headsets & miniature televisions,” stew