A Primer on Text Chunking and its Types

A Primer on Text Chunking and its Types

7 min read

Text chunking is a technique in natural language processing that divides text into smaller segments, usually based on the parts of speech and grammatical meanings of the words. Text chunking can help extract important information from a text, such as noun phrases, verb phrases, or other semantic units.

In this Blog, We’ll see some Text Chunking strategies, why they are important for building LLM-based systems like RAG, and How to use them.

Why is Text Chunking Important?

There are various reasons why Text Chunking becomes important when working with LLMs, we’ll share a few of them which have a significant impact on the results.

Let's try to understand it with an example. You have a document of 15 pages full of text and you want to perform summarization and Question Answering on the document for which the first and foremost step is to extract embeddings of the full document, now from here all the problems start with which are listed.

  1. If you are extracting embeddings of a whole document in one go, it takes the context of the whole document and it can lose lots of valuable information about specific topics, which will result in precise and missed information for LLMs.
  2. If you are using any model provider like OpenAI, you have to be mindful of chunk size because GPT4 comes with a 32K window size, which does not cause any issue but still it's good to be mindful from starting.

Failing to use Text Chunking in right way when needed can lead to issues that affect the overall quality and accessibility of the text.

These are the main two reasons why Text Chunking because important instead of using big documents directly.

Text Chunking Strategies

There are different Text Chunking Strategies, Here we’ll discuss them with their strengths and weaknesses and the right scenarios where they can be applied.

Sentence Splitting Using Classical Methods

  1. Naive Method — The most naive method of sentence splitting is using a split function.
text = "content.of.document." #input text
chunks = text.split(".")
print(chunks)

The output will look like this

#output
['content', 'of', 'document', '']

2. NLTK Text Splitter — NLTK is a library used for working with Language data. It provides a sentence tokenizer that can split the text into sentences, helping to create more meaningful chunks.

import nltk  

input_text ="Much of refactoring is devoted to correctly composing methods. In most cases, excessively long methods are the root of all evil. The vagaries of code inside these methods conceal the execution logic and make the method extremely hard to understand"  

sentences = nltk.sent_tokenize(input_text)  
print(sentences)

Here we have not used any character to split sentences. Further, many other chunking techniques can be used, like tokenizing, POS tagging, etc.

#output
['Much of refactoring is devoted to correctly composing methods.',
 'In most cases, excessively long methods are the root of all evil.',
 'The vagaries of code inside these methods conceal the execution logic and make the method extremely hard to understand']

3. Spacy Text Splitter — The Spacy library is used for performing various tasks of NLP. Text Splitter of Scapy creates text splits, preserving contexts of resultant splits.

import spacy
input_text ="Much of refactoring is devoted to correctly composing methods. In most cases, excessively long methods are the root of all evil. The vagaries of code inside these methods conceal the execution logic and make the method extremely hard to understand"  

nlp = spacy.load("en_core_web_sm")
doc = nlp(input_text)
for s in doc.sents:
    print(s)

Spacy can be used in the processing of raw text intelligently.

#output 
Much of refactoring is devoted to correctly composing methods.
In most cases, excessively long methods are the root of all evil.
The vagaries of code inside these methods conceal the execution logic and make the method extremely hard to understand

Recursive Splitting

Recursive Splitting splits the input text into small chunks in iterative matter using a set of separators. If, in the starting steps, chunks are not created of the desired size, it will recursively try different separators or criteria to achieve the desired size of the chunk.

Here is an example of using Recursive Splitting using Langchain.

#input text
input_text ="Much of refactoring is devoted to correctly composing methods. In most cases, excessively long methods are the root of all evil. The vagaries of code inside these methods conceal the execution logic and make the method extremely hard to understand" 

from langchain.text_splitter import RecursiveCharacterTextSplitter
text_splitter = RecursiveCharacterTextSplitter(
    chunk_size = 100, #set desired text size
    chunk_overlap  = 20 )

chunks = text_splitter.create_documents([input_text])
print(chunks)

The output of Recursive Splitting looks like this

#output
[Document(page_content='Much of refactoring is devoted to correctly composing methods. In most cases, excessively long'), 
Document(page_content='excessively long methods are the root of all evil. The vagaries of code inside these methods'), 
Document(page_content='these methods conceal the execution logic and make the method extremely hard to understand')]

Specialized Structured Splitting

  1. HTML Text Splitter — HTML Splitter is a structure-aware chunker that splits text at the HTML element level and adds metadata for each header relevant to any given chunk.
#input html string
html_string ="""
<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<body>
    <div>
        <h1>Foo</h1>
        <p>Some intro text about Foo.</p>
        <div>
            <h2>Bar main section</h2>
            <p>Some intro text about Bar.</p>
            <h3>Bar subsection 1</h3>
            <p>Some text about the first subtopic of Bar.</p>
            <h3>Bar subsection 2</h3>
            <p>Some text about the second subtopic of Bar.</p>
        </div>
        <div>
            <h2>Baz</h2>
            <p>Some text about Baz</p>
        </div>
        <br>
        <p>Some concluding text about Foo</p>
    </div>
</body>
</html>
"""

headers_to_split_on = [
    ("h1", "Header 1"),
    ("h2", "Header 2"),
    ("h3", "Header 3"),
]


from langchain.text_splitter import HTMLHeaderTextSplitter
html_splitter = HTMLHeaderTextSplitter(headers_to_split_on=headers_to_split_on)

html_header_splits = html_splitter.split_text(html_string)
print(html_header_split)

HTML header will extract only the headers mentioned in header_to_split_on

#output
[Document(page_content='Foo'), 
Document(page_content='Some intro text about Foo.  \nBar main section Bar subsection 1 Bar subsection 2', metadata={'Header 1': 'Foo'}), 
Document(page_content='Some intro text about Bar.', metadata={'Header 1': 'Foo', 'Header 2': 'Bar main section'}), 
Document(page_content='Some text about the first subtopic of Bar.', metadata={'Header 1': 'Foo', 'Header 2': 'Bar main section', 'Header 3': 'Bar subsection 1'}), 
Document(page_content='Some text about the second subtopic of Bar.', metadata={'Header 1': 'Foo', 'Header 2': 'Bar main section', 'Header 3': 'Bar subsection 2'}), 
Document(page_content='Baz', metadata={'Header 1': 'Foo'}), 
Document(page_content='Some text about Baz', metadata={'Header 1': 'Foo', 'Header 2': 'Baz'}), 
Document(page_content='Some concluding text about Foo', metadata={'Header 1': 'Foo'})]

2. Markdown Text Splitting — Markdown Splitting is used to chunk based on Markdown syntax like heading, bash code, images, and lists. It can also structure-aware chunker.

#input markdown string
markdown_text = '# Foo\n\n ## Bar\n\nHi this is Jim  \nHi this is Joe\n\n ## Baz\n\n Hi this is Molly' 

from langchain.text_splitter import MarkdownHeaderTextSplitter
headers_to_split_on = [
    ("#", "Header 1"),
    ("##", "Header 2"),
    ("###", "Header 3"),
]

markdown_splitter = MarkdownHeaderTextSplitter(headers_to_split_on=headers_to_split_on)
md_header_splits = markdown_splitter.split_text(markdown_text)
print(md_header_splits)

MarkdownHeaderTextSplitter splits markdown text based on headers_to_split_on.

#output
[Document(page_content='Hi this is Jim\nHi this is Joe', metadata={'Header 1': 'Foo', 'Header 2': 'Bar'}), 
Document(page_content='Hi this is Molly', metadata={'Header 1': 'Foo', 'Header 2': 'Baz'})]

3. LaTex Text Splitting — LaTex Splitting is another code-split chunker that parses LaTex commands to create chunks that are the logical organization, like sections and subsections, leading to more accurate and contextually relevant results.

#input latex string
latex_text = """
\documentclass{article}

\begin{document}

\maketitle

\section{Introduction}
Large language models (LLMs) are a type of machine learning model that can be trained on vast amounts of text data to generate human-like language. In recent years, LLMs have made significant advances in a variety of natural language processing tasks, including language translation, text generation, and sentiment analysis.

\subsection{History of LLMs}
The earliest LLMs were developed in the 1980s and 1990s, but they were limited by the amount of data that could be processed and the computational power available at the time. In the past decade, however, advances in hardware and software have made it possible to train LLMs on massive datasets, leading to significant improvements in performance.

\subsection{Applications of LLMs}
LLMs have many applications in industry, including chatbots, content creation, and virtual assistants. They can also be used in academia for research in linguistics, psychology, and computational linguistics.

\end{document}
"""

from langchain.text_splitter import LatexTextSplitter
latex_splitter = LatexTextSplitter(chunk_size=100, chunk_overlap=0)

latex_splits = latex_splitter.create_documents([latex_text])
print(latex_splits)

In the above example you can see that overlap is 0, it is because when we are working with code splits at that time overlapping codes totally change the meaning of it. So overlapping should be 0.

#output
[Document(page_content='\\documentclass{article}\n\n\x08egin{document}\n\n\\maketitle\n\n\\section{Introduction}\nLarge language models'),
 Document(page_content='(LLMs) are a type of machine learning model that can be trained on vast amounts of text data to'),
 Document(page_content='generate human-like language. In recent years, LLMs have made significant advances in a variety of'),
 Document(page_content='natural language processing tasks, including language translation, text generation, and sentiment'),
 Document(page_content='analysis.\n\n\\subsection{History of LLMs}\nThe earliest LLMs were developed in the 1980s and 1990s,'),
 Document(page_content='but they were limited by the amount of data that could be processed and the computational power'),
 Document(page_content='available at the time. In the past decade, however, advances in hardware and software have made it'),
 Document(page_content='possible to train LLMs on massive datasets, leading to significant improvements in'),
 Document(page_content='performance.\n\n\\subsection{Applications of LLMs}\nLLMs have many applications in industry, including'),
 Document(page_content='chatbots, content creation, and virtual assistants. They can also be used in academia for research'),
 Document(page_content='in linguistics, psychology, and computational linguistics.\n\n\\end{document}')]

Now when you choose which chunker to use for your data, extract embeddings for them and store them in Vector DB.

In this Blog, We see an example of using Text Chunker with LanceDB to store chunks and their respective embeddings. LanceDB is a setup free, open source, serverless vectorDB that persists in HDD, allowing you to scale without breaking the bank. It is also integrated with the Python data ecosystem so you can use it with your existing data tools like pandas, pyarrow, and more.

Check out the colab

Conclusion

Text Chunking is one of the easiest tasks and is important, too, because it shows some challenges. There is no one strategy that will apply everywhere or any one specific chunk size that fits all the solutions, so what works for some data or solution might not work for others.

In this blog, we’ve covered the Importance of Text Chunking and got some new insights to perform Text Chunking.

Learn more about LanceDB or learn more about applied GenAI applications on our vectordb-recipes . Don’t forget to drop us a 🌟!