The General Inquirer

In the early 1960s, Stone and his colleagues developed the "mother" of computerized text analysis, the General Inquirer (Stone et al., 1966). The General Inquirer is a compilation of a set of word count routines. It was designed as a multipurpose text analysis tool strongly influenced by both need-based and psychoanalytic traditions. Historically, three dictionaries, the Harvard III Psychosociological Dictionary, the Stanford Political Dictionary, and the Need-Achievement Dictionary have been applied the most with the General Inquirer. The Need-Achievement Dictionary was created to automate the judge-based scoring of TAT achievement imagery.

More important, the General Inquirer goes beyond counting words. In a two-step process, it first identifies so-called homographs (ambiguous words that have context-dependent meaning). It then applies a series of preprogrammed disambiguation rules aimed at clarifying their meanings in the text. For example, human judges score the statement "He is determined to win" as achievement imagery. The General Inquirer identifies the word determined as an ambiguous NEED word and win as an ambiguous COMPETE word (because they both can have nonachievement-related meaning) and codes a statement as achievement imagery only if both aspects are present and occur in the NEED-COMPETE order.

The General Inquirer is unique in its flexibility. It can be used to study virtually any topic of interest by creating user-defined dictionaries (e.g., Semin & Fiedler, 1988, 1991). Its most critical advantage, the power to perform context-dependent word counts, is also its most serious pragmatic drawback. The construction of a custom dictionary with the specification of disambiguation rules is time consuming and, in many cases, not well suited to the many ambiguous ways words are used. Nevertheless, the General Inquirer continues to shape the field of computerized text analysis. A third-generation version is now available for desktop computers as well as Internet usage. As shown in Table 11.2, the General Inquirer is instrumental in its aim and thematic in its approach. Its bandwidth and focus depend on the actual dictionary in use; the Need-Achievement dictionary, for example, is specific and content focused.

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