Chapter 3. Analyzing Word and Document Frequency: tf-idf

A central question in text mining and natural language processing is how to quantify what a document is about. Can we do this by looking at the words that make up the document? One measure of how important a word may be is its term frequency (tf), how frequently a word occurs in a document, as we examined in Chapter 1. There are words in a document, however, that occur many times but may not be important; in English, these are probably words like “the,” “is,” “of,” and so forth. We might take the approach of adding words like these to a list of stop words and removing them before analysis, but it is possible that some of these words might be more important in some documents than others. A list of stop words is not a very sophisticated approach to adjusting term frequency for commonly used words.

Another approach is to look at a term’s inverse document frequency (idf), which decreases the weight for commonly used words and increases the weight for words that are not used very much in a collection of documents. This can be combined with term frequency to calculate a term’s tf-idf (the two quantities multiplied together), the frequency of a term adjusted for how rarely it is used.


The statistic tf-idf is intended to measure how important a word is to a document in a collection (or corpus) of documents, for example, to one novel in a collection of novels or to one website in a collection of websites.

The statistic tf-idf ...

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