Accordance Blog
Aug 22, 2012 David Lang

Accordance 10: No Sacred Cows, No Unnecessary Slaughter

When it came time to redesign the Accordance 10 interface, we were determined that there would be no "sacred cows" we would be unwilling to sacrifice. On the other hand, we were equally determined that we would not engage in unnecessary slaughter: that is, we saw no point in change merely for the sake of change. In every design decision, we tried to simplify, declutter, and beautify, while being careful not to fix what wasn't broken or to lose Accordance's distinct advantages.

One example of this can be found in the redesign of the Search tab. There were some previously sacred cows we sacrificed, but without sacrificing the benefits those elements were designed to provide.

One such sacred cow was the search button: the button to the right of the search entry field which you could click to perform a search. Accordance has always let you hit Enter or Return to perform a search rather than clicking the button, so the button has always been a bit superfluous. Such buttons were an interface standard when Accordance began, but over time they have disappeared, and new computer users simply know to hit the Return key.

The old search button became grayed out after a search was performed.

Yet while the search button had fallen out of interface fashion, it still served a valuable function: its state offered visual feedback that you had actually performed the search. Once you clicked that button or hit Return, the button would become grayed out, and you would know that the results you saw in the display pane matched what you had entered in the search field. Once you made a change in the search entry, the button would become undimmed to indicate that you had not yet performed this new search.

The old search button became active when the search argument changed.

We retained that button for as long as we did because we felt the visual feedback it provided was important. For Accordance 10, we decided it was time for that "sacred cow" to be sacrificed, but we still wanted a way to offer visual feedback with respect to whether a search had been performed. Eventually we decided to dim the actual words you enter rather than a separate button. So whenever the contents of the search field are changed, the text appears black. Whenever you hit Return, the text becomes gray. In this way, we removed the clutter of an extra button, while offering even stronger visual feedback than that button provided.

In Accordance 10, search text becomes gray after a search is performed.

In Accordance 10, search text becomes black after the search argument is changed..

Another sacred cow we sacrificed was the need to enter an asterisk when searching by verses to display the entire text. This was an interface convention we had had since Accordance 1.0, and believe it or not, there really was a logical reason for it. Nevertheless, it was a requirement new users often found confusing, so we sacrificed it. Now any blank search will display all verses. Entering an asterisk with Verses selected will still work, but there is no longer any need to learn that little idiosyncrasy.

By taking a hard look at every aspect of the interface, including many that had been around since the very beginning, we significantly simplified Accordance for new users, and streamlined it for existing users. Yet we did so in a way that avoided sacrificing important functionality or visual feedback. So far, both new users and old hands have been enthusiastic about the changes.


Mar 15, 2012 David Lang

Uniqueness and Importance

On Tuesday, I showed how you can search for every word in a book (like Mark), then open an Analysis window to get a listing of those words. Today, I want to show how you can customize the Analysis to show unique words and important words.

When I had you create an Analysis of the words in Mark and choose Count Down from the Sort pop-up menu, I told you to scan past the most common words like common nouns, articles, conjunctions, etc. When sorting the analysis by the mere number of times a word appears, those common words will naturally be at the top of the list. Of course, all that really tells you is that common words are, well, common. So way back around Accordance 4.0, we created filters that would push the more interesting words toward the top of the list. To access these filters, simply make sure the Analysis tab is selected, then choose Set Analysis Display… from the Display menu (or use the keyboard shortcut command-T). In the dialog that appears, change the Count pop-up menu from Number to Uniqueness.


When you click OK to dismiss the dialog, the Analysis will show the words which are most unique to the book of Mark.


Admittedly, it's a bit oxymoronic to measure the degree of uniqueness, but we couldn't think of a better, more concise term. What we mean by it is that these are the words which tend to appear only, or primarily, in your current search range (in this case, the book of Mark). Obviously, this tends to focus your attention on hapax legomena (words which only appear once in the entire Greek New Testament), and those are marked with an asterisk in the Analysis window. You also see words which are repeated several times (and thus not true hapax), but only in the book of Mark. You can then search for any of these more or less unique words to explore them in context.

Now, words which are unique to the book of Mark are not necessarily important words. For example, the name Abiathar is unique to the book of Mark, but it is merely mentioned as a detail in connection with an episode in the life of David, so it would be a mistake to see it as some kind of "key word" in the book of Mark. We therefore added another filter which attempts to find the important words in your search range. To access that filter, open the Set Analysis Display dialog again and change the Count pop-up menu from Uniqueness to Importance. When you click OK to dismiss the dialog, you'll see a list that looks like this:


What jumps out to you about this list of words? One thing I find striking is how high the words meaning "to say," "to ask," "I," "you," and "who?" all rank in this list. Is this an indication that Mark is particularly focused on dialog? I don't know, but it's a question worth exploring. Another thing that jumps out to me is the prominence of words like "disciples," "many," "crowds," and "scribes." Is Mark particularly focused on Jesus' audiences and their responses to him? Again, I can't know merely by looking at a list of words filtered by a computer algorithm. I'll need to examine each of these words in context to see if they really do mark important concepts or trends in the book of Mark. The value of this Importance filter is that it gives me a place to start, prompting me to ask questions I might not otherwise have thought to ask.

If you haven't tried applying these filters to the Analysis window, be sure to give them a try. They're just one more example of the powerful study options lurking just beneath the surface in Accordance.


Mar 14, 2012 David Lang

The Asterisk in Tools

This week I've been blogging about how searching for the asterisk symbol in a Bible window will either display all verses or search for every word. But what about in a Tool window?

You don't search Accordance tools by words and verses, but by the various fields of content each tool contains (Titles, Content, Scripture, etc.). Entering an asterisk in the search entry box, regardless of which field is selected, will always display the entire contents of the tool. This is analogous to the asterisk in a Bible window when Verses is selected.

There may be times, however, when you actually want to search for every word in a particular search field. If the asterisk by itself always displays the entire text without actually searching for every word, how would you search for every word in a field? An easy way to do it is to search for a question mark followed by an asterisk, like this: ?*. The question mark is a wildcard symbol which represents any single character, and the asterisk is a wildcard symbol which represents any combination of characters. Entering the two together in a tool window makes it clear that you want to find and highlight every word in the currently selected field.

Why would you want to highlight every word in a given field? Here's one useful example. Let's say you've taken advantage of our current dictionary sale (which ends next week) to pick up the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible. One of the selling points of this five-volume reference is its many high-quality photographs and illustrations. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to search for all those images so you can quickly scroll through them, just to get an idea of the kinds of illustrations you now have access to?

To do this, open the ZEB and select Captions in the field pop-up menu. Now enter ?* and hit return. Accordance will search for every word in the captions field, effectively finding every image. You can then use the Mark buttons to jump from image to image.

Now, here's the cool trick. Select Paragraphs from the Show pop-up menu to see only those paragraphs of the ZEB which contain a search hit. This effectively hides everything but the images and their captions, enabling you to scroll through the entire tool to see the kinds of images it contains. Set the image size to Large (by choosing Set Tool Display from the Display menu), and you'll get a result which looks like this:

A search for every word in the Captions field of ZEB offers a concise view of every image.

Try doing that with the print edition!


Mar 13, 2012 David Lang

Searching for Every Word

Yesterday I explained that entering an asterisk in a Bible window set to Verses will result in the entire text being displayed. Search for that same asterisk with Words selected, and Accordance will find and highlight every word in the text.

Why in the world would you want to search for every word in a text? Because Accordance offers statistical analysis tools which let you analyze every word found by a search. For example, search the tagged Greek New Testament for * <AND> [RANGE Mark] (you can find the AND and RANGE commands listed in the Enter Command submenu of the Search menu). Now choose Analysis from the Stats and Graphs pop-up menu of the Search window.


An Analysis window will open listing every word in the book of Mark. Now choose Count Down from the Sort menu to see which words are used most often.


Once you scan past the common words at the top of the list, you see that words like "all," "many," and "crowd" are used quite frequently, as are the verbs for "seeing" and "hearing," and the adverb meaning "immediately" or "suddenly."

Seeing the words in a text which are used most often is a great way to spot its central themes. From here, you might explore the use of each of these words in context to see how and why they figure so prominently.

In addition to being shorthand for "show me everything" when Verses is selected, the asterisk is a quick and easy way to find every word in a text so that you can get an Analysis of those words. Once you've learned this trick, you'll find yourself using it often.


Mar 12, 2012 David Lang

Why is That Asterisk There?

Whenever you open a new resource in Accordance, you'll see an asterisk entered in the search entry box. Why is it there?

To understand the purpose of the asterisk, you must first understand that in Accordance, everything is a search. What you have entered in the search entry box of any resource window will determine what you see in that window's display pane. Enter a book name in a Bible window with Verses selected, and you'll see that book, and that book only, in the display pane of the window. Do a word search, and you'll see only those verses which contain that word.

If everything in Accordance is the result of a search, you need an easy way to display the entire contents of a book or Bible. Now you know what the asterisk is for. Any time an asterisk is entered in a Bible window with Verses selected, the entire search text is displayed from beginning to end.

Why don't we just make you enter a range of books like Genesis-Revelation rather than using an arcane asterisk symbol? Well, for one thing, it's a lot easier to enter an asterisk than to type the names of a first and last book. More importantly, what do I do when I open a corpus I'm not that familiar with, like the Dead Sea Scrolls or the works of Philo? If I don't know the first or last book off the top of my head, there's a chance I might enter the wrong books and end up viewing only a portion of those texts. The asterisk is a quick and easy way to say "show me everything" no matter what text I'm working with.

If you've been doing a series of searches and you just want to get back to viewing the entire text, it's easy enough to click the Verses button and type the asterisk, but an even easier method is simply to double-click the Verses button. Do that, and the asterisk will automatically be entered and the search window updated to show the entire text.

Now that you know what that asterisk symbol is there for, I'll use the next several posts to show you what else you can do with it.