Word clouds or tag clouds are clever devices which turn your text into a visual image, with the words used most times in the text presented in larger sizes. They are frequently used on blogs, and in new generation library search engines, and all manner of other places, but oddly enough, I hadn’t really experimented with word clouds until yesterday when I launched my blog.
There is a tag cloud feature on WordPress (my blog host), but with only one blog post, it didn’t do anything very exciting with my blog words, so I decided to submit all my blog text to a word cloud generator called Wordle and see what kind of cloud of thoughts I had created on the first day of my blog.
I’m quite pleased with this as a starting set of words, with wonder, sense, provoke and curiosity showing my aims for the blog, and the terms library and information at the core of it all, although you may well wonder what words like robbers, piratical and rumbustification are doing on a library blog (the welcome post explains it all).
I then experimented with doing the same thing with a poem, which was very interesting. I taught English GCSE for a year once, and if I still did, I would definitely want to use word clouds with the students. It’s a really interesting way of exploring the overall themes and moods of literature and poetry. I used The Stolen Child by W.B.Yeats, which is a poem with lovely imagery, as you can see from the word cloud.
The word cloud is a poem in itself. It both conveys a sense of the content of the poem, and also shows what a wide range of rich and evocative vocabulary Yeats uses.
Finally, thinking about how word clouds could be used by students or staff at the university, I tried putting an article I recently wrote through the Wordle process, thinking this could be an interesting technique for university members to use to get an overview of key words and concepts emerging in their research. My article was about hunting for information, using effective search strategies, and investigating library resources.
I think the word cloud emphasises the sort of key words you might expect to find in an article about library resources, although you may spot a few odd words in there that relate to examples I’d given of research enquiries I’ve helped with, rather than being actual search strategies…
Wordle Create is online here, and I recommend pressing the randomise button, to see how different the text image looks in different colours, fonts and layouts. You can also change the settings using the drop down menus above the text box.
It’s an inspiringly different way of looking at a piece of writing…