Automated Text Classification of News Articles: A Practical Guide

Pablo Barberá, Amber E. Boydstun, Suzanna Linn, Ryan McMahon, Jonathan Nagler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Automated text analysis methods have made possible the classification of large corpora of text by measures such as topic and tone. Here, we provide a guide to help researchers navigate the consequential decisions they need to make before any measure can be produced from the text. We consider, both theoretically and empirically, the effects of such choices using as a running example efforts to measure the tone of New York Times coverage of the economy. We show that two reasonable approaches to corpus selection yield radically different corpora and we advocate for the use of keyword searches rather than predefined subject categories provided by news archives. We demonstrate the benefits of coding using article segments instead of sentences as units of analysis. We show that, given a fixed number of codings, it is better to increase the number of unique documents coded rather than the number of coders for each document. Finally, we find that supervised machine learning algorithms outperform dictionaries on a number of criteria. Overall, we intend this guide to serve as a reminder to analysts that thoughtfulness and human validation are key to text-As-data methods, particularly in an age when it is all too easy to computationally classify texts without attending to the methodological choices therein.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-42
Number of pages24
JournalPolitical Analysis
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • automated content analysis
  • content analysis
  • statistical analysis of texts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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