Word Frequency Visualization with Wordle – Mark Morton

On the lower left-hand side of this blog you’ll notice what is called a tag cloud: it’s a cluster of the words that people who have posted to this blog have “tagged” their postings with. For example, I’ll probably tag this posting with words like “technology,” “web 2.0,” and “wordle.” These tags allow other users to search the archive of the blog: if someone is interested in learning technologies, they can do so search for the word “technology” and all the posting that have been tagged with that word will appear. Tag clouds take all those tag words and display them as a cluster; moreover, the more times that a tag word appears, the larger it will appear in the cluster. That way, you can tell, at a glance, what are the popular themes across the blog postings.

The tag cloud feature is built into WordPress, which is the application that this blog is built upon. However, there’s a stand-alone, web-based application that you can also use to create your own word clouds. It’s called Wordle. Paste the text from Hamlet, or a journal article, or your love letters into Wordle, and it will generate a handsome and useful cloud of words. I did this with all of the text that has been contributed to this blog over the past year, and this was the result:

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This Wordle image is affirming, to my mind, because the largest word is “students”: they are, it would seem, at the core of our blog contributions, as they undoubtedly should be. Admittedly, size can also be deceptive: “lecture” looms large in the word cloud, but probably because our blog contributors spend a lot of time writing about how to supplement lectures with other learning activities, rather than advocating for the traditional lecture mode. There are, of course, text analysis programs available (such as TACT) that are far more sophisticated than Wordle. But if all you need is to give your audience, or students, a quick visualization of word frequency in a text, Wordle does the job admirably.

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