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Fundamentals of Topic Modeling: Concept, Techniques, Case Studies

April 12, 2024
min read

Topic modeling in data analysis is a technique that helps enterprises discover hidden topics and themes in a set of documents. The algorithm identifies the patterns of word co-occurrence, which helps with organizing documents into meaningful groups.

Topic modeling is important because it aids with decision-making by extracting key insights from a large volume of documents.


Alt-text: Bar chart on topic allocation to documents 

Extracting themes and patterns from large volumes of unstructured data is important because it helps generate important customer insights. This can help with opinion mining to understand customer preferences, market trends, emerging issues, etc., leading to a more informed decision-making process.

Let’s explore topic modeling in a bit more detail and learn about its techniques and applications.

Understanding Topic Modeling Techniques

Topic models typically employ algorithms that are based on probabilistic or non-probabilistic approaches. Let's understand both of them in detail. 

Probabilistic Approach

These approaches brace the process of document generation as a probabilistic process. The algorithms assume that each document is a mixture of several topics and that each word in the document corresponds to one of these topics. Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) is a probabilistic approach.

Latent Dirichlet Allocation

LDA is a probabilistic topic modeling approach that assumes that each document contains diverse topics and each word can be attributed to one of these topics. This technique is crucial because it helps reveal the hidden thematic structures from large volumes of unstructured textual data.

Non-Probabilistic Approach

These approaches reduce the document-term matrix into lower-dimensional matrices, each representing documents and terms. The algorithms do not rely on probabilistic assumptions, delivering deterministic results. A non-negative matrix factorization is a non-probabilistic approach used in topic modeling.

Non-Negative Matrix Factorization

The NMF method works by reducing the textual data into interpretable parts through dimensionality reduction. It uses a deterministic approach for extracting topics from documents unlike LDA which makes assumptions. Using NMF, enterprises can discover meaningful patterns in their data for tasks such as document clustering.

Latent Semantic Analysis

LSA is a technique used to analyse the relationships between a set of documents and the terms contained within them. It is useful to identify hidden concepts and associations to understand the semantic meaning of words.

LSA helps enterprises with tasks like information retrieval and document classification.

Correlated Topic Model

CTM can be considered as an extension of the LDA technique, which also derives correlations between topics in various documents. It is used to capture the dependencies amongst topics, helping with more accurate inferences from the textual data. CTM can be used to identify thematic shifts in news articles, trends in social media discussions, etc.

Preprocessing Steps for Topic Modeling

Data preprocessing for topic modeling is an essential step that helps enhance the quality and relevance of textual data. It involves three major steps:

1. Text Cleaning Techniques

Text cleaning techniques remove noise from input data and help with improving result quality.

  • Tokenization: This process involves breaking down the text into individual words (or tokens) to aid the algorithm in further processing.
  • Stop word removal: This process filters out the common words that have little semantic value (like “the,” “is,” or “are.”)
  • Lemmatization: This process reduces the word to its base form (dictionary form), which helps enhance the accuracy of the analysis.

2. Handling Data Sparsity and Dimensionality Reduction

Data sparsity removal involves checking whether the textual data lacks sufficient instances or features for the topic model to work properly. Data scientists also perform dimensionality reduction on the dataset using techniques like PCA (Principal Component Analysis) or SVD (Singular Value Decomposition) to reduce the number of features while retaining the relevant information.

3. Feature Engineering for Efficient Topic Extraction

Feature engineering involves the transformation of raw data into relevant features that can be used for training the topic models efficiently. It uses techniques like TF-IDF weighting, word embeddings, and N-gram extractions.

Topic extraction can be made more efficient through feature engineering, which helps detect underlying patterns and relationships in the text.

Applications of Topic Modeling in Real-world Scenarios

Topic modeling is an essential AI tool that can help organizations that deal with large volumes of textual data streamline their workflows:

1. Document Clustering and Categorization

Document clustering and categorization are pivotal for efficient content management. Topic modeling techniques are applied to large volumes of text-based data to analyze the co-occurrence of words and their distributions. This helps the algorithm group various documents based on the common themes that run across, facilitating information retrieval as well.

2. Content Recommendation Systems and Personalization

You can enhance your content recommendation systems by applying topic modeling techniques to identify underlying themes in customer preferences. It works by analyzing the topics of consumed content and polishing the recommendations by searching for topics that match the content the user searched for. It also helps with personalization which further enhances customer satisfaction from a platform.

3. Market Research and Customer Feedback Analysis

Topic modeling helps market research and customer feedback analysis by uncovering themes and sentiments from large datasets. By identifying topics and sentiments that are prevalent amongst content, like user reviews, businesses can understand the public perception of their brand. It also helps with product improvement, devising market strategies, and more.

4. Social Media Analytics and Trend Detection

Topic modeling can be applied to social media analytics to identify trends from a large amount of social media data. It also helps with detecting emergent topics, sentiment patterns, content preferences of specific users, public opinion and more. Businesses typically use topic modeling to identify influential topics and adapt their marketing strategies to capitalize on ongoing or emerging trends.

5. Healthcare and Biomedical Text Mining

Topic modeling is applied to the healthcare industry to analyze large volumes of medical literature and patient records to extract relevant topics and trends. It helps with early detection of diseases and outbreaks, drug discovery, personalized medicine through correlations between symptoms, and much more. It helps with informed decision-making.

6. Legal Document Analysis and Case Summarization

Topic modeling is essential for legal document analysis and case summarization operations, which could take a lot of time if done manually. It also helps with identifying key topics and themes in the legal text, like court opinions, statutes, and even contracts. Legal professionals can summarize large volumes of text easily, which helps with case research, preparation, and decision-making.

Case Studies and Examples

Let's now examine case studies and examples of topic modeling in action.

1. Analyzing News Articles for Trend Prediction

A group of researchers has successfully leveraged topic modeling techniques such as LDA to identify changes around Coronavirus in Swedish society over a year. This method uses Swedish newspaper articles to understand the evolution of this pandemic in their country and region. The study found the predominant word groups to be “old people,” “infections and deaths,” and “children and school.”

You can read more about the case study here.

2. Extracting Themes from Customer Reviews for Product Improvement

Researchers have successfully demonstrated that topic modeling techniques used in chance discovery and product improvement ideas lead to actionable results. The paper highlights that the dataset that contained reviews from high-ranking users delivered better product improvement insights than direct comments invited on product improvement ideas. Customer reviews are a valuable dataset for product improvement that topic modeling can easily process.

3. Identifying Emerging Topics in Academic Research Papers

Topic modeling is pivotal for research fellows who wish to quickly scan or summarize large volumes of data to glean insight. It can be applied to existing research papers to identify upcoming trends or themes that would require new approaches. This helps academicians plan their next study or research accordingly.

4. Automating Document Summarization for Legal Briefs

Document summaries can be extremely time-consuming – and topic modeling can help automate this process. LDA can be efficiently applied to multi-document summarization process in combination with MapReduce cluster to achieve highly scalable summarization processes. The process is more effective when both clustering and semantic similarity between documents are accounted for.

Best Practices and Challenges in Topic Modeling

To enhance the performance of topic modeling algorithms, you can follow three key best practices that help you address the major challenges along the way:

1. Parameter Tuning and Model Evaluation Metrics

Properly setting parameters like the number of topics and alpha and beta values enhances model performance. Additionally, you can closely monitor model evaluation metrics like coherence scores, perplexity, etc., to assess the overall quality of your topic model. Continuous monitoring helps ensure there is no deviation from standards.

2. Dealing with Noisy and Imbalanced Data

The best way to deal with noisy and imbalanced data is to conduct immaculate data preprocessing steps. Remove stop words, perform lemmatization, and ensure there are no irrelevant data points in the features that the topic model uses. This helps with enhancing the accuracy of the model in identifying topics and clustering.

3. Addressing Interpretability and Validation Issues

It is crucial to evaluate the topics qualitatively to address interpretability and validation issues in a topic model. You can examine the top words, coherence, and semantic coherence to establish whether they are accurate. Additional validation can be confirmed by using perplexity and coherence scores. It does involve human expertise and judgement to evaluate topics, therefore a professional with experience should perform this check.

Future Directions and Emerging Trends

Continuous technological innovation and evolution are also impacting topic modeling by enabling these algorithms to handle more complex data. Future trends highlight that integrating deep learning with topic modeling has the potential to reveal high-quality and deeper insights that help with business intelligence.

Additionally, cross-domain and multimodal topic modeling algorithms are under development that can process high-dimensional and complex data across multiple modalities (text, images, videos, etc.).

With AI applications, there will always be ethical considerations and machine learning biases, but with careful selection of training datasets and robust monitoring, it is possible to mitigate these privacy concerns and risks.


Topic modeling is in widespread use today, with applications across fields such as document clustering, legal summaries, healthcare data and topic extraction, and more. This is because of the capabilities of these models to extract essential insight from large corpora of text with much less time and effort than manpower.

If your business is ready to deploy robust topic models across the organization, consider using an AI-powered platform, such as MarkovML, that provides all the necessary tools and features.

MarkovML is an AI platform that provides you with the fundamental intelligent framework on which you can build your data intelligence solutions easily. The process is no-code, facilitating easy development. Learn more about the features you can incorporate into your topic models on the MarkovML website.

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