Choosing the Best Words with Google Ngram Viewer

Magnetic word tiles

C.K. MacLeod

Recently, I edited course content for the Teaching LGTBQ Students course on coursesforteachers.ca. The writer used the terms two-spirit and two-spirited interchangeably. I am not the subject-matter expert in this collaboration, so I didn’t feel qualified to decide on the correct term to use. But as an editor, it’s my job to suggest to the writer if two terms mean the same thing. It's best to pick one and use it consistently throughout.

When you’re deciding on which word to use, Google Ngram Viewer is the tool I turn to. It is a database of 450 million words, gleaned from university library print books that were scanned for the Google Books project (I even found a scan of my Masters thesis on an obscure topic #shiver). Search results from this database of words can suggest

  • which words are more common than others
  • when words may have first emerged in the lexicon

According to the graph generated by Google Ngram, “two-spirit” is the more common term.

Because Google Ngram can only search words from books published up to 2008 (was that when the database was last updated?), I decided to consult a large group of editors for expert advice on current usage. Two-spirit it was.

Armed with this knowledge, I approached the writer with my recommendation.

Applications

In the example above, I used Google Ngram to determine which term is more common. Ngram is also helpful for determining if a word was part of the lexicon at a certain point in history — which is good to know if you’re writing historical fiction. See Carla Douglas’s article Use Google Ngram’s Viewer to Craft Authentic Fiction for more details.

Limitations

No tool is ironclad, and it’s always important to understand a tool's limits. Sarah Zhang’s article The Pitfalls of Google Ngram to Study Language will help you use Ngram's powers wisely.

How to Use Ngram

Ngram isn't difficult to use. Marzia Karch’s article Google Books Ngram Viewer explains the ins and outs of basic and advanced searches, so you can begin using Ngram right away.

Image by Terry Johnston

Editors or Editing Tools? A 10-Point Comparison

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by C.K. MacLeod
Editor or editing tools? Sometimes it’s hard to decide. Sometimes it’s not.
Here are few points to consider:

  1. Editing tools are widely available and free or cheap. Editors are widely available, but not free or cheap. If you hire an editor, do not get attached to your first-born or your fur baby.
  2. Editors will point out the mistakes in your writing. This will ruffle your feathers. (Tip: If you want to work with an editor, you need to stop wearing feathers.) Tools will point out the mistakes in your writing. You will be unbothered by this. You can continue to wear your feathers.
  3. Tools don’t always tell the truth. You will need to be discerning. Editors don’t always tell the truth. You should be thankful for that.
  4. Tools will make you do the heavy lifting — they’ll identify writing errors, but they won’t fix them. Editors will find and fix most writing errors. And then, like Rumpelstiltskin, they’ll ask you to hand over your first-born.
  5. Tools won’t roll their eyes when you forget to close quotations 53 times in the first 100 pages of your book. Editors will roll their eyes, and then announce your transgression on Facebook. You will be immortalized in the morning’s virtual water cooler conversation.
  6. Many editors charge by the child. Tools are a one-time fee, for multiple projects, for the cost of a two bags of chips, or a fine pair of designer jeans.
  7. Tools will only find what they’re programmed to find. Editors will only find what they’re programmed to find. Bonus: If you choose an editor who studies style guides, takes courses, and teaches courses, they will find things that tools miss. Decide if that matters to you.
  8. A successful editing tool efficiently finds inconsistencies in your writing. A successful editor efficiently finds inconsistencies in your writing, with (gasp!) the use of editing tools. If you are fond of your first-born, encourage your editor to use editing tools.
  9. Tools will not change anything without your permission. Editors worth their salt will not change anything without your permission. If they do, see # 1.
  10. A good tool is not an editor. A good editor is not a tool.

Image by becca.peterson26

A 5-Minute Guide to Evernote

Elephantby C.K. MacLeod

Do you use Evernote to capture ideas and research? Many writers do. Evernote isn't difficult to learn. Here’s my five-minute guide to understanding Evernote.

What is Evernote?

Evernote is a free, multi-platform storage and organization tool. It can store

  • any notes or task lists that you write
  • audio clips
  • digital files
  • pictures
  • scanned documents
  • screen shots
  • video clips
  • web articles

Anything you store in Evernote is searchable, using Evernote’s powerful built-in search engine.

Uses for Evernote

Writers use Evernote for capturing ideas and for organizing research. (If you're a Scrivener user, you can export Evernote into Scrivener’s Research folder, keeping everything in one place.) You can also use Evernote to scan receipts to keep track of small business expenses.

Getting Started With Evernote

Open an Evernote account. Opening an account will give you access to an online version of Evernote. If you want to use Evernote on your phone, tablet, or computer, download the app for your device. Evernote will conveniently sync across devices, so your ideas and research are with you wherever you go.

Adding Content

To add content to Evernote, start a new Note. You can add handwritten notes, typewritten notes, audio notes, video notes, pictures, and scanned documents. Evernote can handle anything you’d like to record and store.

Evernote New Note
Click on New Note to add a note to Evernote for PC

Audio Notes

If you’re on the go, and it’s not convenient to key content into Evernote, you can use Evernote’s Audio Notes feature to record your ideas. On a PC, Select the New Audio Note and click the Record button. On a tablet or phone, click on the Microphone button.

Evernote Clipper

You can gather information from the Internet, too. Simply copy and paste a URL into a Note, or for quick link and info gathering, add the Evernote Clipper to your browser.

Evernote Clipper
Capture articles and links from your browser

Evernote Clipper is a plug-in that you install in an internet browser on your computer. I have Evernote Clipper installed on Google Chrome on my PC. Whenever I find an image, article, or website I’d like to capture, I click on the Evernote Clipper icon, and it’s immediately stored in my Evernote account for retrieval later.

Camera

You can use your smartphone or tablet camera to take pictures to store in Evernote. This is useful if you’re out and about and an object or scene inspires you. Open your Evernote app and click on the Camera icon.

Evernote camera

Reminders

You can attach due dates to Notes in Evernote. Click on the Clock icon and select the due date from the calendar.

Evernote clock

Note Sharing

Finally, you can share your notes with others. Open the note you want to share, click on the Share icon and choose how you’d like to share it. You can share a link to the note, email the note to a recipient, or discuss it in a group chat.

Evernote share

Finding Things Quickly

In a short period of time, you can amass many Notes in your Evernote account. To find Notes quickly, organize your them into Notebooks. I like to have one Notebook for each project I’m working on.

Evernote Notebooks Notes

Evernote’s powerful search engine has optical character recognition (OCR) abilities. It will scan all content, including words in pictures, so that it’s available for keyword searching. You can also add tags—your own key words—to each note, so you can find things easily later.

Evernote search tags

Evernote has a great deal of potential for notetaking and note collecting. If you’ve spent five minutes to read this post, you'll know enough to get started.

Image by Guido da Rozze