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The Challenge of Building Corpus for NLP Libraries

Take the Pain out of Data Collection

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) that enables machines to understand, interpret and manipulate human language in text and speech. But for NLP to function effectively, it needs to be trained on a high-quality dataset.

However, accessing this data can be challenging. That’s why building and expanding a library of NLP datasets, containing individual ‘corpus’ or multiple ‘corpora’ (depending on the intended action of an AI algorithm) is so important to the success of that system. 

Of course, building NLP corpus and expanding an NLP library comes with its own challenges. In this article, we’ll explore what’s involved in the data collection process, discuss the features of a high-quality corpus, and look at some of the key challenges involved with building one. 

What is a Corpus in an NLP Library?

A corpus is a collection of authentic text or audio organized into datasets. ‘Authentic’ in this case means text written or audio spoken by a native of the language or dialect. A corpus can be made up of everything from newspapers, novels, recipes and radio broadcasts to television shows, movies and tweets.

In natural language processing, a corpus contains text and speech data that can be used to train AI and machine learning systems. If a user has a specific problem or objective they want to address, they’ll need a collection of data that supports – or at least is a representation of – what they’re looking to achieve with machine learning and NLP.

However, most machines aren’t equipped to understand language and its surrounding content or intention. As a result, natural language annotation is important for creating structured training data that enables machines to understand human speech for tasks such as question answering or summarization.

Why is Natural Language Annotation Important?

Annotation is the process of enhancing and augmenting a corpus with higher-level information. These ‘pointers’ include everything from part-of-speech tagging to word senses and meanings. The purpose of adding annotated metadata to a corpus allows a machine to recognize patterns when presented with new, unannotated data. 

So that natural language annotation can provide statistically useful results, the corpus must be large enough to yield sufficient data and derive specific meaning of the language. However, in order for the algorithms to learn effectively, annotation must be accurate and relevant to the task it is expected to perform. Robust annotation is therefore critical in developing intelligent systems. 

What are the features of a ‘good’ corpus in NLP?

Large corpus size 

Generally, the larger the size of a corpus, the better. However, it’s important not to prioritize quantity over quality as the corpus still needs to consist of accurate metadata and annotated information, for the reasons described above.

Large quantities of specialized datasets are vital to the training of algorithms designed to perform sentiment analysis.

So while it depends on the intent, purpose and complexity of an action that the NLP system will perform, larger amounts of data in a corpus means that a machine learning system will have more data with which to create a more accurate output.

It’s important to note, however, that it is possible to give an ML algorithm too much information, which can slow it down and lead to inaccurate results. Too much data can also result in the model becoming so molded to the training data that it becomes overfit.

Overfitting occurs when a model learns the details and noise so well that it negatively impacts the model’s performance when it is given new data. The size of a corpus will also impact the practicality and manageability of collecting data for the corpus. If you require a large amount of speech or text language data, it will take a great deal of time to transcribe, annotate and then utilize thousands – perhaps even millions – of words. 

High-quality data

When it comes to the data within a corpus, high quality is crucial. Due to the large volume of data required for a corpus, even miniscule errors in the training data have the potential to lead to large-scale errors in the machine learning system’s output. 

High-quality training data can be achieved through:

Accuracy – Ensuring that the values and metadata contained within the corpus are accurate so the machine learning algorithm can learn to perform a task efficiently and effectively.

Completeness – Ensuring that the data in the corpus doesn’t have any gaps or missing information, which could prevent you from gathering accurate insights.

Timeliness – Making sure the corpus is up-to-date and the data remains relevant to the intended performance or action of the NLP.

Clean data

Data cleansing is also important for creating and maintaining a high-quality corpus. Data cleansing allows you to identify and eliminate any errors or duplicate data to create a more reliable corpus for your NLP. By properly cleansing data, you can remove all outdated, incorrect or even irrelevant information, leaving only the highest-quality information and improving the quality of the training data.


A high-quality corpus is a balanced corpus. While it can be tempting to fill a corpus with everything and anything you can get your hands on, if you don’t streamline and structure your data collection process it could unbalance the relevance of the dataset. 

While balancing a corpus is by no means an exact science, considering the intent and complexity of an NLP system is crucial before you collect data.

Discover DefinedCrowd’s solution

While it is entirely possible for a software engineer or data scientist to collect and develop their own NLP libraries, it is an exceptionally time-consuming and labor-intensive task.

DefinedCrowd can take the pain out of data collection. DefinedData, our online catalog of speech data for AI, can help machine learning teams build a prototype, expand existing models, evaluate internal models and benchmark third-party cognitive services. While the power of customized data should never be underestimated (and we offer that too), DefinedData will deliver high-quality, pre-collected data that will speed your time to market. 

Sourced, annotated and validated by a global crowd of over 300,000 people, DefinedData provides machine learning teams with a robust library of pre-collected, high-quality datasets. With DefinedData, accessing high-quality data has never been easier. View the catalog here.


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