Research and Practice

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					              Journal of Special Education Technology

     Research and Practice                                                       Associate Editor’s Column

     Dave L. Edyburn, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

     Word Clouds: Valuable Tools When You                        Involving end users in this task, rather than rely-
     Can’t See the Ideas Through the Words                       ing on a single point of authoritative review (i.e.,
                                                                 controlled vocabulary), means that tagging can be
     Columnist: Dave L. Edyburn
                                                                 an ongoing activity. In addition, by allowing user
     You’ve probably heard the statement, “He can’t see          communities to do the tagging, the workload of the
     the forest for the trees.” It describes a situation where   information provider is significantly reduced. Per-
     one is so close to the problem that it is not possible      haps the most important contribution of meta-tags
     to discern the big picture. Consider the struggling         is that they provide new ways to use search engines
     reader who is able to demonstrate some level of oral        for locating and retrieving relevant information.
     fluency but has little comprehension of what he             For example, consider how Flickr (
     or she has just read. At another level, consider the        and Google ( can now be used to
     graduate student who has collected a wealth of text-        search for images by content (e.g., red wagon), date,
     based data but now has trouble extracting themes            or location (i.e., GPS coordinates) because of the
     from the large data files. The individuals in these         way meta-tags can be assigned to images.
     situations are overwhelmed with data. As a result,
     they are drowning in a sea of words because they            Keyword searching has always involved text. How-
     don’t have a way of understanding the key ideas.            ever, this system fails when the desired word is not
                                                                 used explicitly in the text. Meta-tags allow users to
     Many experts have noted that information overload           add meaning to a text document by describing the
     is a formidable problem for citizens living in the In-      content in ways that go beyond the actual words in
     formation Age (Willinksy, 1999; Wurman, 2001).              that text.
     Generally, society has made slow progress in ad-
     dressing the need for new tools to manage the glut          Word clouds involve text analysis algorithms. Three
     of information that grows exponentially each year.          general approaches are used: analyzing meta-tags
                                                                 that have been assigned to a blog posting, analyz-
     The purpose of this article is to highlight tools and       ing text that has been extracted from a Web site
     applications of a text analysis technology known as         via an RSS feed, or copying and pasting a corpus
     “word clouds.” We will conclude by exploring pos-           of text to be analyzed. The source information is
     sible applications of these tools for practitioners and     then subjected to word frequency analysis, and the
     researchers.                                                most frequently found words are highlighted using
                                                                 different font sizes and colors. The result is a word
     Text Analysis Technologies                                  picture, or word cloud, of the source information
     A core design principle that emerged in conjunction         (see Figure 1). The larger and louder (i.e., bolder) a
     with Web 2.0 applications involves allowing users           term is, the more important it is presumed to be. A
     to add meta-tags to documents, images, and files.           number of tools have been created that offer serious

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                                                              Journal of Special Education Technology


   Word„cloud„created„using„text„from„the„first„three„paragraphs„of„this„article„using„Wordle„( .

scientific analysis; there also are tools that make it easy      software. Images created by the Web appli-
and interesting to turn a text document into art.                cation are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribu-
                                                                 tion 3.0 United States License.
Word Cloud Tools
                                                                 TagCrowd ( allows users to paste
A number of free online tools are available for creat-
                                                                 text (up to 3 MB), create a word cloud from a URL, or
ing word clouds. The information that follows briefly
                                                                 upload a file (up to 6 MB). The results can be saved as
describes eight common text analysis tools and key fea-
                                                                 html code to embed in a Web page, printed, or saved as
tures of each product that may influence decisions about
                                                                 a PDF file.
which tool to use.
                                                                 TagCloud Generator ( is a tool
Wordle ( allows users to paste text or
                                                                 used for creating word clouds using text found on a Web
create a wordle from a URL for any blog, blog feed, or
                                                                 page. Users can choose two forms of output. One option
Atom/RSS feed. The basic interface is easy to use (see
                                                                 is to download a Flash file that features the word cloud
Figure 2). The advanced features interface allows for cus-
                                                                 as a movie. The other option is to download html code
tomization of the size, color, and word frequency inclu-
                                                                 to embed the word cloud in a Web page.
sion/exclusion rules. The output can be printed, posted
to a public gallery, or captured using screen capture

JSET 2010 Volume 25, Number 2                                                                                         69
               Journal of Special Education Technology


     Creation„interface„of„Wordle„( .

TextTagCloud ( al-     Once installed on a Web page, it permits the user to ac-
lows users to paste text and then control various output     cess hyperlinks embedded in words found in the cloud
variables. The output is html code that is used to embed     (e.g., link to a definition or resource).
the word cloud in a Web page. A major drawback to
this tool is the lack of a preview option for viewing your   Tag Cloud Generator (http://www.tag-cloud-generator.
word cloud.                                                  com/?l=2) is a design studio that is used to create tags of a
                                                             Web page. Users save the output as html code to embed
Tagxedo ( is powerful and easy       in a Web page.
to use. The interface offers an extensive collection of
customization tools (e.g., font, color, theme, text direc-   Many Eyes, a research and development tool created by
tion, shape, and history) similar to a design studio. It     IBM (,
requires installation of Microsoft Silverlight. Output can   requires users to establish a free account. Data can be
be downloaded and saved as a JPEG or PNG file.               uploaded and results can be viewed in several ways: word
                                                             tree, word cloud, phrase net, and tag cloud.
Tagul ( seeks to be more than a word
toy. The core technology is an application programming       Readers interested in learning more about the history of
interface (API) that is licensed to Web site developers.     word clouds and the extensive array of free tools that can

70                                                                                     JSET 2010 Volume 25, Number 2
                                                                Journal of Special Education Technology

be used to create word clouds or reviewing creative uses           significant potential for helping students learn about vi-
for these tools are encouraged to explore several note-            sual design and the aesthetics associated with meaning-
worthy resources (Friedman, 2007; Lamantia, 2006;                  ful words.
Tag Cloud, 2010).
                                                                   Teachers may find word clouds useful for analyzing
Applications for Practice                                          readings to identify key vocabulary words that may need
                                                                   preteaching. The various features of the many tools will
Students may find word clouds useful for academic ac-
                                                                   challenge teachers to think about the best tool for the
tivities, visual arts, and a variety of personal and social
                                                                   task (e.g., create a word cloud from information in a text
activities (e.g., art for their locker). Creating word clouds
                                                                   file that can be saved on a Web page). Finally, teachers
as a prereading activity may be useful for many students
                                                                   will want to think creatively about how these word cloud
to ensure that they have the proper vocabulary and con-
                                                                   tools can be used to engage students in meaningful un-
ceptual understanding to read a text passage. Creating
                                                                   derstanding of text and written expression (see Figure 3).
word clouds also can be a useful reading comprehension
activity to support students in the process of identifying
                                                                   Applications for Research
themes and patterns in single or multiple texts. Students
also may find word clouds useful for obtaining feed-               Little is presently known about the use of word clouds in
back on their own writing. Clearly, word clouds have               the K–12 or teacher education curriculum. As a result,


   A„thematic„Wordle—“Love,„Love,„LOVE”—by„Anonymous .„Created„using„Wordle„( .

JSET 2010 Volume 25, Number 2                                                                                             71
                 Journal of Special Education Technology

survey research could help the profession understand the              Lamantia, J. (2006, February 22). Understanding tag clouds. Re-
current status of technology integration for these types                trieved May 27, 2010, from
of tools.
                                                                      Tag cloud. (2010, May 20). Retrieved May 27, 2010, from http://
Researchers engaged in text-based data sets may find
word cloud tools useful for quick analysis of simple word             Willinksy, J. (1999). Technologies of knowing. Boston: Beacon Press.
frequency patterns within one or more texts. Consider-                Wurman, R. S. (2001). Information anxiety 2. Indianapolis, IN:
ation of the source file (e.g., RSS feed, Web page, copy                Que.
and paste text) as well as the intended use of the output
file (e.g., simply view on screen, save as html, Flash, PDF,          Author„Notes
etc.) will impact the selection of the tool. Most likely,
                                                                      If you have a research and practice topic that you would like to
researchers will find the need for more specific tools for            see covered or if you are interested in being a guest writer, please
qualitative data analysis.                                            send your comments to:

References                                                            Dave L. Edyburn, Department of Exceptional Education, Uni-
                                                                      versity of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI
Friedman, V. (2007, November 7). Examples and best practices.         53201-0413. Email to
    Retrieved May 27, 2010, from http://www.smashingmagazine.

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