I'm working in R. I'd like to run a regression analysis for predicting price against terms in a text field.

I have a dataset of jewellery auction listings, with price paid, date, and an unstructured description of the item type:

"Ruby necklace, Spanish",1925,45000
"Diamond ring, 0.7 carat, bezier cut",1972,24000
"Diamond necklace",1980,87000

I know how to run a linear regression for price against date:

data <- read.csv('jewels.csv')
lm1 <- lm(data$price~data$date)

Now what I'd like to do is build a similar model, using the words in the description field that are most associated with higher prices.

Intuitively I'd guess these include "diamond" and "necklace", while (say) "amethyst" and "ring" were associated with lower prices, but is there a way I can build a model to look at this?

My sense is that I need to do the following things:

  • turn the text field into a bag of words (vector)
  • remove stop words
  • normalize each word for overall count(?)
  • run some kind of regression against price.

I'd really welcome some guidance on how to approach each step.


First, I'd split each text description into words. there are several ways to do it. the simplest is by using strsplit with the correct split argument.

what you get is a list of character vectors each containing a word. note: if you choose bad split arguments you'll end up with lot's of garbage, which might not be really bad, you can filter some of the garbage later.

all.words = strsplit(descriptions,c(" ",","))

Now, I'd have a combined list of words:

words = unlist(all.words)
word.count = table(words)

Now I'd choose only words that appear several times (in my example 3):

chosen.words = names(word.count)[word.count>3]

Now for each word and for each case in your data I'd add an indicator variable, telling whether the given word appeared in the description of the given item

With this new data, you have a new variable for each word, and you can add these variables to your regression, and the coefficient will tell you the relative contribution of this word to price.


  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's super helpful, thank you. Just one clarification: so you would add a new column to each row for each chosen word? And this column would be of type boolean? $\endgroup$ – flossfan Nov 12 '13 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ @flossfan yep. you got it right $\endgroup$ – amit Nov 12 '13 at 17:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The above approach can work, but will be very inefficient as the data matrix will be very sparse. Just think about how many zeroes you will have for 'Spanish'. What can be done to improve things is to code some of the items into numerical variables (carat and weight for example) and others into categorical variables (material and type of bijoux for example). While this would require more data processing work, it would provide more stable and ultimately useful inferences (and you would be able to use interaction effects as well). $\endgroup$ – Dimiter Feb 11 '14 at 20:45

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