Word Clouding

There are various word cloud programs available  online (e.g. voyant, wordle, Tagul, & Tagxedo). In this post, I am going to give a brief overview of what these are and how they can be effective tools in the library.

So what is a word cloud?

Oxford Dictionaries defines word cloud as “an image composed of words used in a particular text or subject, in which the size of each word indicates its frequency or importance.” (“Word Cloud” )

The first Word Cloud tool we will examine is made by Voyant.  As you can see in the picture below, it just looks like a jumble of words that are all different sizes and colors. At a closer look it becomes evident that these different sizes are based on word frequency.  Without scrolling down, can you tell what the text is?

Green Eggs Ham Voyant WordCloud

I’ll give you a hint:  It’s one of the most beloved children’s books of all time, or at least since the mid 20th century.

Yep, it’s Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

There are some interesting results that we can gather from the data (i.e. the text)being analyzed.  There are 783 total words and 51 unique words used by Dr. Seuss in Green Eggs and Ham. The most frequent words in the corpus are not (84 ), i (71), them (61), a (59), & like(45).  Rather than having to count all of this and do it by hand, Voyant’s program did it for me.  All I had to do was copy and paste the text (which I found available online)  into a box provided by Voyant. One of the features that Voyant provides is called “Words in Documment” which allows you to see the word frequency and provides a graph and a “relative” synopsis of a selected word per 10,000 words in the document .

Some of the tools are not very clear as to what they are and how to use them, but Hermeneutica, the parent organization of Voyant, has a useful guide to help users understand how it operates.

Now let’s take a look at Wordle.  Sticking to the Dr. Seuss theme from earlier, let’s do Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Oh, the places you'll go wordcloudSo, what do we notice?  Besides the different words, the structure of the cloud is nearly the same.

One of the things I liked about using Wordle was the ease of changing the appearance of the cloud.  For instance, the font I selected in this cloud was “Grilled Cheese BTN”.  I also changed the color scheme to Milk Paints.  It’s possible that I’m hungry, as I noticed a food pattern emerge here.  Using their tools I also decided to remove the common English words.   Pretty cool right?

There are other numerous word clouding tools available to use, such as Tagul and Tagxedo, as mentioned earlier.  Tagul and Tagxedo are a little more complicated to install, but can be well worth the effort as their design options far exceed the options in Voyant and Wordle.  If on the other hand you are looking for information analysis with your text, I would recommend Voyant.

So What?  Or, How can these be incorporated into library functions and teachings?

Mrs. Lodge’s Library, in her blog post Dewey Word Clouds, describes a project that she came up with for her fourth grade students to help understand the Dewey Decimal System.  The project involved teaching the students basic note taking skills, grouping the students into various Dewey ranges (000-900), and teaching the students how to put the information into a word cloud.  The students could then see the results of their labor by the signage that was created for the library.

Duke University’s Library Blog, in their blog post Moving Beyond the Word Cloud, speaks of using them in their “post-library instruction assessment by compiling student comments and creating a word cloud to share with the group prior to leaving the session.” (Amber 2011) This is helpful in making it easy for students to remember what was discussed in their library instruction.  Amber Welch also spoke of how Duke was moving beyond Word Clouds by using programs such as TAPoR.

Terry, writing for the Shokie Public Library Blog, wrote an article called What’s a word cloud and what’s it good for? in which she describes creating a list of titles that she has read and creating a word cloud to see if there is a common theme in her reading habits.   This is very similar to the project done by Mrs. Lodge’s Library, but has a different goal in mind.  If a library were able to pull their list of titles from the catalog record, then they could easily create a word cloud showing some of their more popular themes.  Another approach to this would be doing subject headings extracted from the catalog record.


  1. Oxford Dictionaries, “Word Cloud.” Accessed February 13, 2014. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/word-cloud.
  2. Welch Amber, “Moving Beyond the Word Cloud,” Duke University Libraries: News and Events (blog), October 31, 2011, https://blogs.library.duke.edu/dukelibrariesinstruction/2011/10/31/moving-beyond-the-word-cloud/.

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