Determining Word Frequency

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 9, 2016)

As you are analyzing your documents, you may wonder if there is a way to create a word frequency list. In other words, you may want to generate a list of every unique word in your document, along with the number of times it appears.

Unfortunately, Word doesn't include such a feature. You can, however, create your own using a macro. The following VBA macro is an example:

Sub WordFrequency()
    Dim SingleWord As String           'Raw word pulled from doc
    Const maxwords = 9000              'Maximum unique words allowed
    Dim Words(maxwords) As String      'Array to hold unique words
    Dim Freq(maxwords) As Integer      'Frequency counter for unique words
    Dim WordNum As Integer             'Number of unique words
    Dim ByFreq As Boolean              'Flag for sorting order
    Dim ttlwds As Long                 'Total words in the document
    Dim Excludes As String             'Words to be excluded
    Dim Found As Boolean               'Temporary flag
    Dim j As Integer                   'Temporary variables
    Dim k As Integer                   '
    Dim l As Integer                   '
    Dim Temp As Integer                '
    Dim tword As String                '

    ' Set up excluded words
    Excludes = "[the][a][of][is][to][for][this][that][by][be][and][are]"

    ' Find out how to sort
    ByFreq = True
    ans = InputBox$("Sort by WORD or by FREQ?", "Sort order", "WORD")
    If ans = "" Then End
    If UCase(ans) = "WORD" Then
        ByFreq = False
    End If
    
    Selection.HomeKey Unit:=wdStory
    System.Cursor = wdCursorWait
    WordNum = 0
    ttlwds = ActiveDocument.Words.Count

    ' Control the repeat
    For Each aword In ActiveDocument.Words
        SingleWord = Trim(LCase(aword))
        If SingleWord < "a" Or SingleWord > "z" Then SingleWord = ""    'Out of range?
        If InStr(Excludes, "[" & SingleWord & "]") Then SingleWord = "" 'On exclude list?
        If Len(SingleWord) > 0 Then
            Found = False
            For j = 1 To WordNum
                If Words(j) = SingleWord Then
                    Freq(j) = Freq(j) + 1
                    Found = True
                    Exit For
                End If
            Next j
            If Not Found Then
                WordNum = WordNum + 1
                Words(WordNum) = SingleWord
                Freq(WordNum) = 1
            End If
            If WordNum > maxwords - 1 Then
                j = MsgBox("The maximum array size has been exceeded. _
                  Increase maxwords.", vbOKOnly)
                Exit For
            End If
        End If
        ttlwds = ttlwds - 1
        StatusBar = "Remaining: " & ttlwds & "     Unique: " & WordNum
    Next aword

    ' Now sort it into word order
    For j = 1 To WordNum - 1
        k = j
        For l = j + 1 To WordNum
            If (Not ByFreq And Words(l) < Words(k)) Or 
               (ByFreq And Freq(l) > Freq(k)) Then k = l
        Next l
        If k <> j Then
            tword = Words(j)
            Words(j) = Words(k)
            Words(k) = tword
            Temp = Freq(j)
            Freq(j) = Freq(k)
            Freq(k) = Temp
        End If
        StatusBar = "Sorting: " & WordNum - j
    Next j

    ' Now write out the results
    tmpName = ActiveDocument.AttachedTemplate.FullName
    Documents.Add Template:=tmpName, NewTemplate:=False
    Selection.ParagraphFormat.TabStops.ClearAll
    With Selection
        For j = 1 To WordNum
            .TypeText Text:=Trim(Str(Freq(j))) & vbTab & Words(j) & vbCrLf
        Next j
    End With
    System.Cursor = wdCursorNormal
    j = MsgBox("There were " & Trim(Str(WordNum)) & _
        " different words ", vbOKOnly, "Finished")
End Sub

When you open a document and run this macro, you are asked if you want to create a list sorted by word or by frequency. If you choose word, then the resulting list is shown in alphabetical order. If you choose frequency, then the resulting list is in descending order based on how many times the word appeared in the document.

While the macro is running, the status bar indicates what is happening. Depending on the size of your document and the speed of your computer, the macro may take a while to complete. (I ran it with a 719-page document with over 349,000 words and it took about five minutes to complete.)

Note that there is a line in the macro that sets a value in the Excludes string. This string contains words that the macro will ignore when putting together the word list. If you want to add words to the list, simply add them to the string, between [square brackets]. Also, make sure the exclusion words are in lowercase.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (879) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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