Case Study 10: Wordle

18 Apr

My friends and I used to use word-cloud-creator Wordle to make 8.5-by-11-inch art for our dorm room walls. Now, journalists can use the tool to pinpoint frequently referred-to topics over time by putting a series of texts, such as successive States of the Union addresses, into the cloud creator. While Wordle still provides the option to spice up the words by playing with colors, fonts and text orientation, the idea behind it — categorizing words by size — is helpful in discerning main ideas of texts quickly. 

For example, in President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address, the words “Americans,” “jobs” and “people” stand out in the biggest fonts, meaning they were mentioned most frequently. In 2011, topics didn’t change much, but a notable addition was the word “new,” which appeared frequently enough to become one of the largest words in the cloud. A reason for the change could be a shift in policy change for Obama: He was trying to push forward new legislation, such as the health care act, and his focus was on the future. The president’s most recent State of the Union, which he gave in January, adds “energy” and “right” to the mix, perhaps indicating a focus-shift toward energy policies and frequent mention of the president’s ongoing battle with “the right.”

Without reading the full texts of each address, it is possible to discern their major themes by looking at a Wordle word cloud. The tool can save journalists time if all they’re looking for is an overview of topics; Wordle is not a statistically sound or expert-proven model for discovering trends, but it can be useful as a jumping-off point for stories that compare political addresses or even multiple stories about ongoing criminal trials or community issues. 

I think Wordle could also be useful to bloggers who want to check their own sites for frequent topics. If they want to figure out why they gained more “followers” during a certain period of time, for example, they can enter their URL in Wordle and find out if a dramatic topic-shift is the cause. If so, bloggers can orient their blogs toward topics they know their readers care about without going back through months of posts.

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One Response to “Case Study 10: Wordle”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers April 19, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Good analysis

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