Text – the Elephant in the Overload Room?

What is text analysis? Is it a concept or a tool? How can it help you reduce information overload in a practical way?


Dr. Rick Fenton is one of my coaches and friends. He is a strategist and a futurist who stretches my mind every time I talk with him. In a recent conversation he said “information overload occurs in at least two dimensions: quantity and quality. Quantity is the amount of information whereas quality reflects the clarity of the information; whether the meaning is self-evident or ambiguous. Ambiguity demands effort and creates stress”.

WOW, why didn’t I think of that? He went on to add; “… and the vast majority of information today is text. Text-based documents of high volume and ambiguity create unmanageable workload.” This sounds logical, so what can we do? Rick continued; “For years analytics was restricted to numerical data and ignored the mountains of qualitative text; but things have changed and computer-based text analysis is emerging to help, amongst other things, reduce the crisis of information overload. It’s time for business leaders and knowledge workers to take advantage of this powerful tool”.

With this back ground the following example and tips are provided by Dr. Fenton.


“You shall judge a word by the company it keeps” J.R. Firth (1957)

For most of us, the term text analysis sounds simple enough. We all analyze text as we listen and read, but what is computer-based text analysis? What can it do to reduce information overload in a real way? I was handed a list of overwhelming articles in trade and academic journals that apparently claim text analysis (mining, analytics) is the next wave in business intelligence. But, I asked, what does this really mean? How does it apply to me? Rick had a few suggestions:.

Know the Value Proposition:

Text analysis explores what text means, beyond simple dictionary definitions and into what the speaker or author had in mind. If your success depends upon the ability to interpret the intention behind words, text analysis has something to offer.

I asked Rick for something more concrete. He said; “think of text as the message between meanings; between what the sender has in mind and what the receiver understands of this. As we know, these are often quite different! Often the analysis amounts to a comparison at the meaning level, sometimes called semantic fit. For example, text analysis could be used to rank the fit of 500 resumes with a job description in an organizational context, or assess the match between a complex grievance and a 200 page collective agreement”.

Rick showed me an example of a response to a Request for Proposal (RFP). Using text analysis of both the proposal and the RFP, the proposal was highlighted to help the author understand where it fit with what the RFP was really after.

In this excerpt, the highlighting signals the author with:

• term size: proportional to importance to the reviewer

• strikethrough: shows terms that will likely be irrelevant

• missing terms of importance: shown, in context, as super scripts.

“If the proposal does not use the right terms in the right places, the reader will likely miss or misunderstand your intention … and you might miss the business.”

Understand the basics:

• The potential impact of text analysis is big enough to make it something important to know about.

• Take the time to learn how the technology it is being applied; there are many introductory papers, but here is one place to start

• Be open to other possibilities, not just information overload; text analysis promises to be an important feature of information management – here is a useful industry report and a prolific industry expert

Try it:

Text analysis, for many organizations, represents unfamiliar technology with uncertain benefits. Rick’s response?

“Just try it, with available software and tools applied to a real practical problem”. He adds, “… there is no better way than to gain direct experience with this strategic technology”.

That is easy to say! How do I do that?

Here is Help

• For our clients and friends Dr. Fenton is offering:

• a complementary guided tour of text analysis.

• As well there is this hand-on Introductory Text Analysis Workshop offered at 50% off, where you will apply text analysis to a topic of your choosing.

• Or simply contact Rick directly.


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One Response to “Text – the Elephant in the Overload Room?”

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