Wordle Tips for Rookies: Why, Where, What and How

Wordle is a great – and free! – resource for creating word clouds. This post offers a primer for organizations and individual professionals in particular that addresses Why, Where, What, and How and shares specific Wordle tips. Additional tips, examples and applications are welcome.

Most everyone knows what a word cloud or a tag cloud is – at least by sight if not by name – but not many people are aware they can generate their own word clouds quickly and easily using a free service called Wordle. Wordle was created by Jonathan Feinberg in the summer of 2008. As he describes it,

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Wordles can be created using almost three dozen languages and in a wide variety of formats, resulting in virtually limitless design possibilities.

Why – and Where – to Wordle

For organizations and individual professionals, potential uses of Wordles include:

– Identifying and illustrating key themes in written text
– Creating an interesting graphic to include in a blog post, white paper, etc.
– Creating a visual element for an infographic
– Developing a themed tag cloud for a billboard, poster, t-shirt, etc.

What to Wordle

You can create Wordles from relatively small to relatively massive amounts of text, depending on your objectives. Sample Wordle sources include:

– One or more blog posts
– A blog or other Atom/RSS feed
– White paper content
– Digital book content
– Qualitative research data
– Tweets

How to Wordle

Wordle has two basic creation options: You can “paste in a bunch of text” in a dialog box, or you can “enter the URL of any blog, blog feed, or any other web page that has an Atom or RSS feed.” For more sophisticated users, there are also some advanced options.

When wordling a bunch of text, you may find that you need to edit it. For example:

  • Wordle automatically strips out words like “and” and “the” (and equivalent common words in the other languages it supports), as well as numbers, but you may have other “noisy” words that need to be eliminated.
  • Certain words (e.g., a hashtag that unites a bunch of tweets) may dominate your results and not be necessary if they are the Wordle’s theme.
  • Wordle doesn’t distinguish between different forms of a word (e.g., Digital and digital, market and markets, read and reading), so they will be treated as independent occurrences.

The simplest way to edit the text is to load it into a Word document before you paste it into the Wordle box. Using “find and replace” (replacing unnecessary or unwanted terms with blanks) you can successively modify and eliminate terms until you get the desired results.

  1. Be sure to save the original text intact, just in case you need to start over.
  2. Make notes about what terms you’ve changed and deleted.

Once you are happy with the input text, you have a variety of options for customizing your Wordle. You can:

  • Use the randomize feature to select a layout you like
  • Change the font
  • Modify the layout by changing things like the edges, how the words are arrayed, and the degree of horizontal and vertical orientation
  • Recolor the Wordle, using both standard and customized color schemes, as well as different degrees of color variation

Wordle allows you to publish your final product, by “saving it to the public gallery.” If you want to use your Wordle as a marketing or PR tool, publication isn’t a bad idea. In general, though, it probably isn’t necessary. What you do want to do, however, is effectively export it to another medium so you can further manipulate and reuse it. For my purposes, PowerPoint (PP) works just fine. To do this, I suggest the following:

  1. Click on the “open in window” button and enlarge the window to fill your screen.
  2. Take a screen shot of the Wordle and paste it onto a PP slide.
  3. Crop the image as needed and add any desired effects (e.g., shadows, borders, artistic effects).
  4. Save the edited image as a picture (I recommend a png file).

The final image can be upload to a website, inserted into another file, etc. Click here to see sample Wordles in the public gallery (note these don’t include the additional effects you can add via a program like PowerPoint).

For more “how to” tips, check out the Wordle’s FAQ page. If you’re a Wordle aficionado or maven, please share additional tips, favorite examples and applications. And as always I welcome your comments and questions. Thanks!

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