I wrote a Python script that, given a literary work in text file format, takes it apart, makes a word list, counts how many times each words appears in the literary work, and then checks if it follows Zipf's Law by performing the chi-square test.

For those of you who don't know Zipf's Law, put simply, it is a law that states that in literary works, the frequency of a word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. So, the second most common word will appear half as much as the most common words, the third most common word will appear a third as often, and so on.

Also, for those who don't know the Chi-Square Test, it is a test that looks for statistical significance.

It commonly takes the form of:

$$x^2 = \sum \frac{(\text{observed} - \text{expected})^2}{\text{expected}}$$

I made this script because I had recently learned to code Python and I wanted some small project to occupy my mind. However, as I am rather new, I figured that my code was not exactly "Pythonic", so I was hoping that some kind souls could help me to tell me what I'm doing wrong and provide other helpful shortcuts.

from string import maketrans
from operator import itemgetter, attrgetter, methodcaller
import math

punct = [".", ",", "!", "?", "<", ">", "\n", "'", '"', "1", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6", "7", "8", "9", "0", "_"]

f_open = open('C:\Python27\Pride and Prejudice.txt', 'r')
lines = f_open.readlines()
lines = filter(lambda name: name.strip(), lines)

def cleanup(text):
    counter = 0
    new_text = []
    while counter < len(text):
        if text[counter] in punct:
            counter += 1
        elif text[counter] == " " or text[counter] == "-":
            new_text.append(" ")
            counter += 1
            new_text.insert(counter, text[counter].lower())
            counter += 1
    words = "".join(new_text)
    return words.split()

def make_list(line):
    words = []
    for x in line:
        words = words + cleanup(x)
    return words

def count_words(words):
    word_count = []
    counter = 0
    for x in words:
        for sublist in word_count:
            if x == sublist[0]:
                sublist[1] += 1
        if all(sublist[0] != x for sublist in word_count):
                word_count.append([x, 1, 0, 0])
    return sorted(word_count, key = itemgetter(1), reverse = True)

def get_numbers(lists):
    numbers = []
    for x in lists:
    return numbers

def check_zipf(counted_words):
    counter = float(1)
    standard = counted_words[0][1]
    new_list = counted_words
    for x in counted_words:
        new_list[counted_words.index(x)][2] = float(standard) / counter
        new_list[counted_words.index(x)][3] =((float(new_list[counted_words.index(x)][1]) - float(new_list[counted_words.index(x)][2]))**2) / float(new_list[counted_words.index(x)][2])
        counter += 1
    return new_list

words = make_list(lines)
counted = count_words(words)

In no particular order:

  • Your code needs more documentation.

    There are no comments or docs to help me understand how the code works, or why it was written the way it was. If I don’t know why the code was written this way, I can’t tell whether it’s working correctly – this makes it harder to review, edit and maintain.

    There’s Python PEP 257, which describes how you should document a function with docstrings. (PEP means “Python Enhancement Proposal”, like a public design doc for Python.)

    As a side note, when I read make_list(), I assumed that it took a single line (one string), which was a little confusing. It wasn't until I saw it called later on that I realised it took an iterable of strings – a collection of lines. Beware confusing typos like this.

  • Prefer comprehensions to loops and lambdas.

    Python has a feature called comprehensions, which is a very powerful way for quickly constructing lists, sets and dictionaries. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, I quite like this introduction. This is often considered to be one of the highlight features of Python.

    This lets you write for loops in a more succinct way, for example in get_numbers():

    def get_numbers(lists):
        return [x[1] for x in lists]

    If the for loop is simple, these are generally considered more Pythonic.

    Lambdas are considered fairly un-Pythonic, especially when comprehensions are available. For example, I'd rewrite line 10 as:

    lines = [line.strip() for line in lines if line.strip()

  • Use with open() rather than open() … close().

    The preferred approach for opening files is as follows:

    with open(pride_and_prejudice_path, 'r') as infile:
        # do stuff with infile

    This construction ensures that the file is always closed correctly – if you make explicit calls to open() and close(), something could go wrong in the middle and you might not close the file correctly.

    Note also that you can iterate over the contents of the file directly, rather than calling readlines() first:

    with open(pride_and_prejudice_path, 'r') as infile:
        lines = [name.strip() for name in infile if name.strip()]

    Note that calling readlines() will store every line in a list, before you can do anything – depending on the size of the file you’re looking at, this can be prohibitively large. Often better to skip readlines() and iterate over the file directly.

  • Try to avoid unnecessary imports.

    The only import you’re actually using is operator.itemgetter(). It’s good practice to avoid importing things that you don’t use.

    In the same vein, don’t create variables you don’t need, e.g. the counter variable in count_words().

  • Read PEP 8, the Python style guide.

    In general, your code is pretty good. A few small things I noticed:

    • On line 41, you seem to have over-indented by 4 spaces.
    • On line 42, you shouldn’t have spaces around the = sign in keyword arguments, i.e.,

      return sorted(word_count, key=itemgetter(1), reverse=True)
    • Line 56 should be broken up for readability, probably by assigning new_list[counted_words.index(x)] to a constant. (Regardless of the line length in the standard, it’s just unwieldy.)

  • Use __future__.division instead of casting to floats.

    I can see that you’re casting to float in quite a few places, because Python 2.7 defaults to integer division. Python 3 behaves in a more sensible manner (and I’d recommend using Py3 if you’re starting from scratch). To get this behaviour in the older versions of Python, you can add

    from __future__ import division

    to the top of your code. This will let you clean up your float() calls.

    Note that __future__ imports must precede any other imports.

  • Use data structures other than lists.

    In count_words(), you're using a list of lists to keep track of how many times a word appears in the text. A better data structure would be a dictionary.

    Further, you're constructing multiple intermediate lists to get this structure. All of those consume memory and take time to construct. If you move this up to where we iterate over the file, we can skip those lists and go much faster:

    word_counter = dict()
    with open('prideandprejudice.txt', 'r') as infile:
        for line in infile:
            if not line.strip():
            for word in cleanup(line):
                if word in word_counter:
                    word_counter[word] += 1
                    word_counter[word] = 1
    counted_words = sorted(word_counter.items(),

    On my machine, your original code took ~40s to run. My updated version runs in <1s. Those intermediate lists had a big performance impact.

    Note that you could use collections.defaultdict to tidy that code up even further.

  • Use enumerate() for a more Pythonic loop.

    Your cleanup() function has a classic pattern for people coming to Python from other languages:

    i = 0
    while i < len(iterable):
        item = iterable[i]
        # do stuff with item
        i += 1

    Python has loop constructions that make this much nicer. In cleanup(), you can use enumerate to iterate over the index and the character together. This is more explicit, and makes for cleaner code. Like so:

    for idx, char in enumerate(text):
        if char in punct:
        elif char in (" ", "-"):
            new_text.append(" ")

  • Use collections.namedtuple to clean up the output of check_zipf.

    Using namedtuples is a very easy way to improve the readability of code, by assigning named attributes to items. Reading the output of your check_zipf() function, all I get is lists of numbers. What do these numbers mean? Their indices mean nothing to me (especially as you haven't included comments).

    Namedtuples, and good attribute/variable names, can make it much easier to see what's going on. For example:

    Word = collections.namedtuple('Word', 'observed expected chi_square')
    def check_zipf(counted_words):
        zipfed_words = {}
        baseline_observed = counted_words[0][1]
        for idx, (word, observed) in enumerate(counted_words):
            expected = baseline_observed / (idx + 1)
            chi_square = ((observed - expected) ** 2) / expected
            zipfed_words[word] = Word(observed, expected, chi_square)
        return zipfed_words
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was just about to write about using comprehensions for make_list in my answer, but you beat me to it! \$\endgroup\$ – Tersosauros Apr 4 '16 at 4:29

Basic (beginner) issues

Unused import's
Well, first off - on line #1 you have an unused import. Specifically maketrans, is not used anywhere. So you can remove the line from string import maketrans On the next line, you have two further unused imports, namely attrgetter and methodcaller. In this line you import 3 things, the last two of which you never use. These can be removed from the end of that line.

You are also importing the math module, yet it appears you are not using it anywhere.

When do you ever get_numbers?
Similarly (in that it's there but not used), your get_numbers function is never called from within the given code. Obviously this should be removed if it is redundant.

No Shebang line
Also, (I'm assuming you must be coming from a Windows® background/environment) it is normal (for so called command-line Python scripts, i.e. those intended to be run in the terminal) to have a She-bang line. This is a line (at the very top, first line) of the form: #!/usr/bin/env python. This tells the shell (BASH) of a UNIX/Linux system, which interpreter to invoke for the script. As you've undoubtedly seen first hand, Python scripts work just fine without them.

Non Pythonic array construction
punct = [".", ",", "!", "?", "<", ">", "\n", "'", '"', "1", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6", "7", "8", "9", "0", "_"] is NOT a Pythonic way to construct an array of characters. Given Python features duck typing, there is no need for an array of characters to be given as an array literal.
A normal string literal will suffice, as the typing system allows it to be sub-scripted, iterated, etc just as if it were an array. punct = ".,!?<>\n'\", "1234567890_" works just as well, and looks nicer.     P.S.   are you missing \r and \t, etc from that list?
Or can you know for sure there are no Windows line endings or tab characters in your input file(s)?

Slightly bigger (background/historical) programming style things

(Yes, I know it's a mouthful, but these are basically issues that I believe have come about due to conditioning from previous programming languages, rather than from being new to Python).

Foreach loops are your friend
Let's take the following piece of code (your cleanup function):

def cleanup(text):
    counter = 0
    new_text = []
    while counter < len(text):
        if text[counter] in punct:
            counter += 1
        elif text[counter] == " " or text[counter] == "-":
            new_text.append(" ")
            counter += 1
            new_text.insert(counter, text[counter].lower())
            counter += 1
    words = "".join(new_text)
    return words.split()

Here you use a while loop, to iterate through the given text (taken as a argument). At no point do you use the loop variable counter for anything other than getting the current index of text, or incrementing for the next iteration. In these circumstances, a for (Python's name for what you may know as a "for each") loop is the most appropriate.

You also perform the counter += 1 is each branch of the enclosed if/else. Even though it has to happen regardless of the branch taken (hence why it is in each branch). Just doing counter += 1 at the end would be much better. Essentially Don't Repeat Yourself (DRY).

cleanup can be refactored to use the for loop, thus:

def cleanup(text):
    new_text = []
    for character in text:
        if character in punct:
        elif character == " " or character == "-":
            new_text.append(" ")
            new_text.insert(counter, character.lower())
    words = "".join(new_text)
    return words.split()

Note, there are some other improvements that can be made to this function. For example the line elif character == " " or character == "-": can be re-factored to if character in "- ":


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