Google’s Ngram Viewer: Digital Tool Review

Madison Manns is a student in Digital Humanities at Belmont University. 

Ngram is a software system that operates through Google’s search engine—more specifically, through Google Books. The digital tool is sometimes referred to as Google Ngram or Ngram Viewer. Ngram allows users to compare the usage of specific terms in print over a specific amount of time. The user simply inserts the terms they wish to compare and the time period they are evaluating. The system is free to use and easy to find. Simply typing [Ngram] into any search engine will bring up the tool.

The method of use proves intuitive and straightforward. No navigation is required; all functions occur on the same page. The webpage initially shows an example comparing appearances of [Albert Einstein,Sherlock Holmes,Frankenstein] from 1800–2000. The digital tool searches all Google Books and compiles the date into a graph, with differently colored lines representing each term. The y-axis refers to the number of time the name is mentioned; the x-axis refers to the year mentioned.

The tool has a few additional features that increase the tool’s relevance and possible uses. The first option involves the back-end aspect of website design: on the upper right corner of the page, Google provides the HTML that would enable a user to embed this chart or system in their own website—completely free. Second—and perhaps more useful for those of us who aren’t too savvy with computer code—the web page provides sources for its chart at the bottom of the page. Lists of timeframes and search terms link to the Google Books from which information was drawn. Additionally, page numbers appear above many of these books when the link is selected, cutting down on the time required for sifting through each book.

The system also provides the option to search magazines and newspapers, so for a user who isn’t bound by academic source restrictions, the tool can provide a general comparison of cultural and social concern about the searched terms. This tool can be incredibly useful for researchers, as it provides sources that can clear up ambiguities between whether the world’s fair should be written as [World’s Fair], [the world’s fair], or [the World’s Fair]. By showing which sources say which term, a user could glean that [world’s fair] is used more often by historians, but that authors writing about architecture use [the World’s Fair]. This verification can help editors, students, sociologists, the creators of web content, and other digital humanities scholars check the sources of minute formatting discrepancies or track popular terms and subjects over a given era.

How to Use:

  1. Find Ngram through your search engine of choice, or use this hyperlink:
  2. Enter your search terms into the boxes at the top of the page:

3. View the resulting chart.

4. To find the HTML to embed this program, select [Embed Chart] at the top of the page:

5. To access the data year by year or term by term, see the bottom of the page.

Madison Manns is a student in Digital Humanities at Belmont University. 

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