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Making Word Clouds with Wordle
September 26, 2012 - 5:18pm

In December of 2010, I copied all of the text from every blog post that I had ever written for Inside Higher Ed into a text file. The document represented six months worth of entries and I recall that it took a fair amount of time to put it together. My goal in doing this exercise was to create a word cloud using that I could use as the header graphic for my "six month anniversary" post. The word cloud, with a few formatting tweaks (font, color, layout) in Wordle, turned out to be a nice summary of the most-used words in my posts. In fact, this particular word cloud has turned up all over the web as it seems to be a popular Student Affairs themed graphic. It has a Creative Commons "attribution / non-commercial" license, so feel free to use it.

Student Affairs word cloud

It's been several years since I was first introduced to the awesome word cloud creation service that is Wordle. Originally, I remember thinking that people must be generating these designs using Adobe Illustrator, magic, and a lot of patience. If you haven't experimented with Wordle, you are missing out. Wordle lets you create word clouds using text, the words from a website, or the feed from a blog. Here's a word cloud that I made today using the RSS feed for this blog. It contains words from my most-recent posts.

Student Affairs word cloud

Word clouds are a great way to visually display words based on frequency of use. However, because most word clouds are image-based (and therefore not available for screenreaders), it's important to convey their meaning using plain-text descriptions. You could use an ALT attribute of all of the words in the cloud, but that would be fairly useless as a screenreader would simply read each word in the cloud without knowing which ones were more prominent.

One last tip about Wordle word clouds, if you want to create a larger version of your design, check out this great set of instructions on the Wordle website.


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