Wordle is a neat free online tool for creating word cloud images based on either text that you paste in or a url that you provide. In this post I’ll provide some guidance on using the functions for customising the word clouds, and also some tips on how to tailor the text content you provide to the tool to get the best results.
Although the customising functions for the word clouds are excellent, some of the other functionality is a little basic. You can save your word cloud to the Wordle gallery and use the url to share your creation with others, but remember that anything in the gallery is public – anyone on the web can both see it and use it for their own purposes. So long as you don’t save it to the gallery then the information you include never leaves your browser. If you want to keep and use a copy of the word cloud yourself then you need to make a copy of it using screen capture software suitable for your platform.
Creating and saving a wordle
Select the text or url that you want to use and click on the ‘Create’ menu item to start. You could also just type in words that you want to use. The size of the words in the word cloud is based on the number of occurrences of that word within the text. If you type in words manually and want the words to have different sizes then you need to type in the same word repeatedly. For example to create the word cloud below the following words were typed into the Paste in a bunch of text: box:
banana banana banana apple strawberry strawberry peach
Once you have submitted your text or a url, the word cloud is displayed on screen with some random settings. The look of the word cloud can be customised in a number of ways. If you wanted to save the wordle as it is you can use screen capture software to capture it as is. Alternatively, to capture a larger or smaller size you can click the Open in Window button to show the wordle in a separate window that you can then resize. If you want to save the word cloud to the gallery click the Save to public gallery button. You can add a title, user name, and short description that are displayed in the gallery. The title is also used as part of the url for the word cloud. Make sure you make a note of the url because there is no way to search the gallery later!
Language and tips for customising the words displayed
There are a few language settings available in the create editor that allow you to include or exclude language elements and a few other functions. By default Wordle excludes numbers in the word clouds, but you can uncheck the Remove numbers option on the Language menu to re-add them if you want to include them. If you have used a url or copied paste from a source it is quite likely that you will have text that is in both capital and lowercase letters. The default settings for the word cloud will show words with different capitalisation as different words. There are a number of options under the Language menu to help group these words together. You can either choose to display everything as all capitals (as below) or all lowercase, or use Guess case for each word.
There are also options under Language for removing common words in different languages. To display all of the words in the word cloud select Do Not Remove Common Words, or if you want to remove common words such as “the” and “is” from the word cloud select the appropriate language from the list. Not removing common words can make a big difference to the resulting word cloud as shown below.
The final option on the Language menu is to show the word frequencies, as shown below. This can be quite useful but unfortunately you can’t take a copy. Click on Word or Frequency to display the list of words in alphabetical order or frequency order.
In the examples above the word cloud contains only individual words, but if you wanted to keep some words or phrases together you can use the tilde character ~ to join the words together. For example “user defined” would result in two words “user” and “defined” in the word cloud, but “user~defined” would be displayed as “user defined” in the word cloud.
If there is a particular word in the word cloud that you want to remove, you can right click on the word within the word cloud and select Remove “<selected-word>”. This is a very quick and easy way to remove a word that you don’t want displayed.
There is one more word-related function that is useful to know about. This is the Maximum words option on the Layout menu. Using this you can select the maximum number of words to display. The default number is 150, but it can be useful sometimes to alter the number of words to highlight those that are most frequent or to remove words that are least significant. Examples of both are shown below – you can see that a different effect is achieved with each. I couldn’t find a definitive answer for how many words could be displayed but over 5000 is possible.
Wordle doesn’t do any kind of stemming – meaning that it doesn’t recognise words that are related or similar to each other. It can be useful though to display related words together, and some manual intervention is needed to do this. You might want to group plural and singular words, for example “user” and “users”; or words with similar routes, for example “architect” and “architecture”. One way to do this manually is to take a section of text and paste it into Word. If you perform an advanced Find and Replace you can convert spaces into paragraph or new line characters to separate all the words. You can then use the Sort function in the Table menu to sort all the words into alphabetical order. You can then change similar words into the same version of the word and paste the edited text to create a new Wordle.
Fonts, Layout, and Colour
The fonts menu is straightforward – you can choose from over 30 different fonts. Some of these are easy to read whilst others are more artistic. When you change the font, the other settings are kept the same so you can see how each one looks without losing any settings. The Layout menu provides settings to control the order of the words and their orientation. The Re-layout with current settings option is very useful if you don’t quite like the look of the word cloud but like the current settings. Select this option and a new layout is generated with the selected settings.
Prefer alphabetical order speaks for itself. This can be useful for making a readable word cloud that makes it easier to locate and compare different words. An example is shown below.
Rounder edges and Straighter edges change whether the tag cloud looks more rounded or not. In the examples below, the top word cloud has straighter edges and the bottom has rounded edges. Again the effect is quite different with the straighter word cloud being a bit more jagged and edgy looking.
The final options on the Layout menu control the orientation of the text. Choices are to have all or most of the text horizontal, vertical or any which way.
All horizontal and mostly horizontal are very readable choices, but having some vertical text can make the image a little more interesting.
All vertical text can be rotated 90 degrees to make for an interesting layout as in the example below:
The Any Which Way text is quite chaotic but can make quite an arty layout, especially where a single or few words dominate as shown in the example below.
The final options for customising the word cloud can be found under the Color menu. You can choose from a choice of greyscale, preset colours on a black or white background, or you can define your own colour scheme using Custom Palette. Being able to define your own colour scheme is useful if you wanted to use the image on a poster or website for example. You can choose your own background colour and up to five colours to be used for the words.
In addition to selecting a colour scheme you can choose how much variation in colour you want, with options ranging from Exact Palette Colours to only use the colours in the colour scheme to Wild Variation where lots of different colours close to the selected scheme are used.
And now for something different
Wordle is a neat tool as mentioned, and is particularly good for producing arty and attractive word clouds. If you want a tool that is less pretty but a bit more focused on analysed then a good free alternative is Text is Beautiful. This tool is very similar to Wordle to use and can also take pasted text and a url to create the word cloud from. Text is Beautiful (TIB) is a little different, however, and provides some additional visualisations. The key way in which it is different is that where Wordle uses word, TIB focuses on ‘topics’. TIB analyses the text and compares the contents to a thesaurus to pick out related topics and groups and colours the words based on these topic. The word cloud below shows related topics in the same colours.
In addition to the word cloud visualisation, there is also a ‘topic web’ visualisation that shows the related words and their relationships. Grey lines connect words and topics together. Below you can see that words belonging to the same topic or concept are coloured the same, for example nouns, verbs, and adjectives are all pink. Nouns and verbs are closely connected to each other and category, but are not closely connected to adjectives. Adjectives is instead linked closely with describe – in the text adjectives are used to provide descriptions. The topics or concepts are grouped together in ‘themes’.
The final visualisation is the correlation wheel that shows which concepts are highly correlated with each other. Two concepts are highly correlated if they often appear together in the text but are rarely found apart. In the example below “specific” is highly correlated with “templates” and “personal”.
A benefit of FIB over Wordle is that you can download the images as PNG and SVG making them a little more practical for use in projects. You can also share your images on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.