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We, the denizens of the Web, who live and work here also call them as tag clouds. Call them “word clouds” or “tag clouds” – they are visualization tools that helps your brain process information in a rather unique way. But there’s a method behind the apparent jumble you see. As Wikipedia explains, it is a weighted list where the importance of each word is indicated with the size of the font and color.
Earlier, we have looked at ways to generate nice looking tag clouds. Tina also showed us a few uses of tag cloud around the web. But word clouds or tag clouds (yes, I will keep using the terms interchangeably) can be put to lot of uses because they help to jog our brains and make it see the mundane in alternative ways. Isn’t that the trigger for creativity? Let’s find out with some examples.
Use Word Clouds to Break Writer’s Block
Writer’s block. It’s that evil imp which raises its head in the best of times. If freewriting exercises are a good idea to break Writer’s block, then do you think doing the exact opposite is a good idea? It can be if you are willing to stare at a wall of text for a few minutes and let your brain figure out all the creative angles. If writing is all about bringing words together, then play a word association game with your brain and a word cloud.
I use a word cloud generator like the colorful Wordle to create my word clouds for this ailment. To generate a word cloud, you can enter a bunch of text or use an URL to bring in words from a webpage. If you can decide on the topic you want to write on, enter the URL of any article that is around the same topic. Look at the random jumble of words and try to do word associations between them. You can click on the Randomize button to generate different styles in different colors and try to trick your brain into seeing a pattern. Let me know in the comments if it works for you.
Preventing Overuse of Words
Lack of creative thinking also stifles the way we use words – we tend to use the same ones repetitively in our writing. Word repetition could mean stilted writing. Breaking repetitive words with synonymous ones and better sentence construction is a creative writer’s job. But how do you find out if you are using the same words too many times? Take your text and paste it into a word cloud generator like Wordle. As word clouds size the words according to their frequency, you can check the prominent words against their occurrence in your text. A word cloud generator like TagCrowd and ToCloud also show you words according to their frequency.
Optimize Your Web Writing
In a reverse way, checking the frequency of words helps to ensure that the web copy you are writing is optimized for the keywords that you want to target. Again, pasting blocks of text into a word cloud generator like the two I mentioned above is a “quick and dirty” way to get a sense of keyword density throughout the article. Some word cloud generators display words according to their sizes…so that everything fits together in a nice design. Avoid those generators. Do also note that nowadays writing a good search engine optimized article is a lot more than sticking an article with keywords.
Polish Your Online Resume
Keywords are the virtual breadcrumbs that a search engine goes for. It’s true for webpages and it is also true for resumes (which is technically, a webpage). Look into your LinkedIn resume and push it through a word cloud generator. You can quickly scan the output to check if the resume highlights your most relevant and valued skills prominently.
Visualize Your Facebook Data
Wolfram Alpha has a cool tool that helps you generate a personal analytic report out of your Facebook data. For instance, it also generates a word cloud from all your wall posts. The screenshot above is from mine, and it gives me a fairly good idea of what I have been posting about most commonly. For instance — photography and feel good posts. Take this as an interesting use of word clouds to give you a perspective about your own self.
In School – As a Pre-reading Activity
My wife, a school teacher, uses word clouds as a pre-reading fun activity with her students. Generating a word cloud from text and telling the students to guess the theme and context of a story helps to whet their appetite for the lesson, summarizes the lesson before they get into it, and also introduces an element of fun. Word clouds in fact find common usage in education and it is a wonderful tool to help visualize a lot of complex data. You can put it to a lot of creative uses – from creating quizzes to helping with vocabulary. The above screenshot is from “A Tale of Two Cities”.
Avoid Death by Bullet Points
Bullet points are so over-used…and so dull. A less dense word cloud – appropriately colored – can really embellish a presentation slide. Turn your bullet points into a colorful word cloud that’s preferably horizontal to grab the attention of your audience. If your presentation is information heavy, you can use word clouds to break up the presentation and use word clouds as triggers for an open ended question and answer session and also to summarize what has been presented along the way.
So, Have I Won You Over To Word Clouds?
I hope I have. Word clouds are visualization tools, and all visualization tools have their deficiencies. Word clouds has its limitations too, and perhaps that’s why it is often dismissed in some quarters as word bling. But a tool can only be as good as the creativity you put behind it. An earlier article of mine showed you how to search the web with word clouds or tag clouds. For instance, Quintura remains a good search engine for kids and it uses the visual ease of tag clouds. Word clouds are more accessible now with quite a few coming over to mobile platforms like Textal for iOS. The tools are there. How are you planning to use them? Give us your creative ideas in the comments.