5 Design Rules for Visualizing Text Variant Graphs

paper, specified "long paper"
  1. 1. Stefan Jänicke

    Imaging and signal processing group - Universität Leipzig (Leipzig University), Institute of Computer Science - Universität Leipzig (Leipzig University)

  2. 2. Annette Geßner

    Göttingen Centre for Digital Humanities - Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (University of Gottingen)

  3. 3. Marco Büchler

    Göttingen Centre for Digital Humanities - Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (University of Gottingen)

  4. 4. Gerik Scheuermann

    Imaging and signal processing group - Universität Leipzig (Leipzig University), Institute of Computer Science - Universität Leipzig (Leipzig University)

Work text
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1. Motivation
After Schmidt’s article 1 on modelling and representing
various versions of text with so called Variant Graphs was
published in 2009, web-based tools were developed that utilize
and adopt the presented model to facilitate the work with digital
editions of text in the browser. CollateX 2 is one of these tools.
It computes a static, horizontally aligned, directed acyclic graph
with vertices showing the various text fragments and edges
labeled with edition identifiers connecting subsequent text
fragments. The tool Stemmaweb 3 extends the CollateX graph
to allow for user-driven annotation and modification of the graph
structure (e.g., merging and splitting of vertices). Despite the
attached interaction capabilities, it seems that there is little
value put on designing the graphs. The purpose of this paper is
to raise awareness for improving the readability of Text Variant
Graphs. We propose a list of design rules for styling the graph
and its vertices and edges to facilitate a rapid comprehension of
the underlying alignment structure by the user.
2. Design Rules for Text Variant Graphs
When defining rules for the layout of Text Variant Graphs,
we refer to the visualization of CollateX, as its layout is also
used in Stemmaweb, and it can be seen as an improvement
in comparison to the generated graph of the tool NMerge 4
– provided by Schmidt –, where edges carry all types of
When we take a look at a resultant CollateX graph (see
Figure 1), it is hard to find out how often a text fragment occurs
over all given editions. Thus, it is hard to compare, e.g. the
numbers of synonyms. The only chance is to count the edition
identifiers at the labels of the incoming edges of the desired
vertices. But we can easily put this information on the vertex
layouts, which leads us to Rule 1: Vary vertex label sizes!
As Wattenberg proposes for the ”Word Tree” 5 , we suggest
weighted vertices also for Text Variant Graphs. The usage of
font size as a metaphor to reflect the number of occurrences
of individual text fragments helps to immediately differentiate
between frequent and infrequent branches of the graph.
Lausanne, Switzerland
Fig. 1: Fourth Bible verse in 7 different editions: Text Variant Graph
computed with CollateX
Fig. 2: Fourth Bible verse in 7 different editions: Our visualization
It seems to be obvious to draw the edges of a directed acyclic
graph in the shape of arrows. But for what reason, when we
know that we read a text with a dedicated writing direction?
Then, most probably, the user is supposed to read the graph
in the same direction, and it is counterintuitive to move the
eyes backwards when reading (in Figure 1, we find an edge
from ”saw” (right-top) to ”the light” (bottom-left) – we call this
a backward edge). In graph theory, the common style for a
directed acyclic graph is a so called layered graph drawing 6
 with all edges pointing in the same direction. Thus, we define 
Rule 2: Abolish backward edges!  When doing so, we can
reduce the cognitive load of the visualization by drawing
undirected edges instead of arrows.
The labeling of edges with edition identifiers as it is done
in CollateX leads to two problems. Firstly, the additional text
labels interfere with the vertices' texts. Thus, the reader has
to visually separate vertex labels (text fragments) from edge
labels (identifiers). Secondly, if lots of editions pass an edge
or long edition identifiers are used, the corresponding edge
labels become very large. As a consequence, adjacent vertices
drift apart and the reader quickly loses the context of a text
fragment. Therefore, follows our Rule 3: Do not label edges!
As an alternative, we suggest drawing an edge for each edition
in a different color. However, as the human ability to distinguish
colors is limited, it only works well or a small number (<10)
of editions. But, with varying stroke styles for edges (e.g.,
line, dashed line, dotted line) we are again able to increase
this number. In any case, a legend is required to map the
given styles (or in the CollateX case, the identifiers) to its
corresponding edition name.
When analyzing and comparing text editions to each other,
the user is often interested in those editions, that deviate from
the ”general case”. Within the Stemmaweb tool 7 , edges, that
are passed by most editions, are labeled with "majority”, thus,
the labels are bundled. When following Rule 3, we receive
multiple lines instead of multiple labels, hence, Rule 4: Bundle
major edges! We highlight both resultant edge types – bundled
and unbundled edges – in a different way. Unbundled edges
receive saturated colors in visually attracting hues, whereas
bundled edges are colored in a plain gray, but drawn with
slightly thicker strokes. Thus, the deviations from the general
case can be detected easily. When following Rules 3 and 4,
we are able to reduce the number of edges to be drawn – and
therefore, the cognitive load of our approach – to a passable
Last but not least, the main problem we identified when
reading the horizontal aligned Text Variant Graphs was the
required horizontal scrolling. Especially, when the source texts
are long, the user quickly loses the context and it is hard to
keep track of how individual editions disseminate in the graph.
Moreover, a lot of space is wasted since the height of the
graph is rather small compared to the height of the screen.
The outcome of a survey within the TAdER Project 8 to avoid
horizontal scrolling when reading texts in the browser underpins
our hypothesis that the user is accustomed to scroll vertically.
Thus, here comes our final Rule 5: Insert line breaks! It may
sound tricky to cut the graph into pieces, and thereby, keeping
it easily readable. But, why shouldn’t we adopt the behavior
of a text flowing in a book (with line breaks) for Text Variant
Graphs? When following Rule 3, we receive different colored
edges (or edge bundles) at the end of each line, so that all
paths are visually seizable at the beginning of the next line. This
approach supports the user in following individual editions even
for large graphs, and the user also receives more context on the
screen for a specific position in the graph.
Figures 1 and 2 juxtapose the resultant Text Variant Graphs
for the fourth Bible verse with CollateX and our visualization that
implements the listed design rules above.
3. Following the Rules: 7 English Translations of
the Bible
We are working with seven English translations of the Bible
in our project 9 , which turned out to be a very good use-case
for the presented visualization approach, not only because
the Bible is a very influential and well-known text. Another
reason is, that these translations are all derivatives of the same
Hebrew and Greek original, often trying hard to preserve the
exact wording, and refer to an existing and well structured text,
divided into canonical books and verses.
Figure 3 shows a screenshot of the first five Bible verses.
After tokenization, normalization and alignment procedures,
we layout the resultant directed acyclic graph by following
the rules proposed in the previous section. For the seven
editions, we chose the following colors of the 12-color palette
for categorial usage suggested by Ware 10 to facilitate maximal
visual differentiation by the user: red, blue, green, yellow,
orange, brown, and purple. To support answering various
research questions, the user is able to modify the visualization.
Firstly, when the user hovers a vertex all individual edges of the
corresponding editions are drawn in the dedicated colors. This
mean of interaction helps to highlight the paths containing the
dedicated token and to clarify those editions forming majority
edges. Secondly, unimportant editions can be removed from the
graph. Thirdly, the user is able to select one of the editions as
a main branch, so that the corresponding vertices are drawn on
the same horizontal level – variations to the other editions can
be considered easily.
During the development phase, the humanists of our project
steadily evaluated our design, so that the result remains
intuitive even for the inexperienced, maybe sceptical user. We
strongly recommend such an iterative process when developing
visualizations for humanistic applications as it turned out to
be very successful. In comparison to a plain graph layout, the
presented design for the Text Variant Graph and the project
page reminds the user, that it is a book to be read, not just
some string of letters – which was a major concern of the
Our presented approach is still applicable for examples
where whole blocks of text have different orders among the
various editions, but matching text blocks may strongly drift
apart. In the future, we direct our attention on developing
algorithms that visually align such structures more properly.
Digital Humanities 2014
Fig. 3: Screenshot of the Bible use case. In Genesis 1:4, all paths
containing the token ”divided” are highlighted.
1. Desmond Schmidt and Robert Colomb. A data structure
for representing multi-version texts online. International Journal
of Human-Computer Studies, 67(6):497–514, 2009.
2. Ronald H. Dekker and Gregor Middell. ComputerSupported
Collation with CollateX: Managing Textual Variance
in an Environment with Varying Requirements. Supporting
Digital Humanities 2011, University of Copenhagen, Denmark,
17–18 November 2011.
3. Tara L. Andrews and Caroline Mac. Beyond the tree of
texts: Building an empirical model of scribal variation through
graph analysis of texts and stemmata. Literary and Linguistic
Computing, 2013.
4. Multiversiondocs: Merge, edit and compare N versions in
one document. code.google.com/p/multiversiondocs/ (Retrieved
5. Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda B. Viégas. The Word
Tree, an Interactive Visual Concordance. IEEE Transactions
on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 14(6):1221–1228,
November 2008.
6. Kozo Sugiyama, Shojiro Tagawa, and Mitsuhiko Toda.
Methods for Visual Understanding of Hierarchical System
Structures. Systems, Man and Cybernetics, IEEE Transactions
on, 11(2):109–125, Feb 1981.
7. Stemmaweb – a collection of tools for analysis of collated
texts. byzantini.st/stemmaweb/ (Retrieved 2013-10-30).
8. TAdER – Text Adaptability is Essential for Reading.
www.tader.info/scrolling.html (Retrieved 2013-10-30).
9. Holy Bible – Verses in Various English Translations.
informatik.uni-leipzig.de/HolyBible (2013).
10. Desmond Schmidt and Robert Colomb. A data
structure for representing multi-version texts online.
International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 67(6):497–
514, 2009.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

XML available from https://github.com/elliewix/DHAnalysis (needs to replace plaintext)

Conference website: https://web.archive.org/web/20161227182033/https://dh2014.org/program/

Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO