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Using Wordles for Data Analysis

Thu, September 06, 2012 11:14 AM | Anonymous
As a trainer, there are two parts of my job I hate the most. First is scheduling, second is reporting. One report is on the training evaluations, or “smile sheets.” Most the questions are easy data to extract and report on. The Likert questions are simple math and easy to understand, making the reporting of those questions easy. The open-ended questions are more challenging and take the most time. You have to read each one and extract the key words or topics to determine what is important and then you have to decide how to report these findings. Many times I’ve had a long list of things mentioned, and I really hate lists. Other times I’ve tried to find key items and tally how many times they are used to create a chart of sorts. I’ve never really been satisfied with my reporting results until I met Wordle.

Wordle.net is a tool for generating visual “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. Common words, such as “the,” “a,” “is,” etc. are removed from the result. You may have seen word clouds that are similar on blogs and other web pages. You get the option to change the color scheme, fonts and layout to suit your needs. The site does use Java, so be sure it is installed on your computer.

ASTD National has used Wordles for their newsletter headers, using words describing workplace learning and performance. I’ve used them in training for a cool slide or background. When you go to the web site, you’ll see many people use them for silly things, and some inappropriate things. I will show you how to use it for data analysis of your open- ended questions.

First, copy and paste responses from the same question into a text document or word processing program. I use Microsoft Word so I can spell check. Next, go to Wordle.net and click the Create your own link. Paste the copied text into the text box provided, and then click the Go button. You may be asked to run Java on this site by your browser.

TA-DA! You have your Wordle. If you don’t like how it looks, you may customize the language, font, layout, and color. Use the Language menu to change the case, not remove common words and view the word count. There a bunch of fonts to choose from in the Font menu. The Layout menu lets you change edges of the shape, the direction of the words and a bit of the order or maximum words to display. You can use a built in color palette or create your own in the Color menu. If you want, you can also use color variations or exact colors. If you work with company colors and the color is a part of your brand, like the red for UNL, you’ll probably want to work with exact colors. If I didn’t, I’d have lots of pink in my result and at UNL, we are “Go Big Red” and not “Go Big Pink.” If you find some words you’d like to filter out from the result, right-click the word and choose to remove it. If you remove a word, the layout will adjust for the change.

Your final step is to save your Wordle. You can choose to Save to public gallery where it will be accessible to the entire Internet world. Once posted in the public gallery, you’ll receive code to embed the Wordle into your blog or website. If you just wanted a printed version, choose the Print button instead. I like to have an electronic version to use in my presentations, but there isn’t a “save as image” option. I work around this by doing a screen print of the Wordle. Jing or SnagIt work great for this.

Now that you have the Wordle with the results from your open-ended survey questions, how do you use it? You must keep in mind that Wordle will show individual words and highlight those used most frequently. It will NOT give you the context in which it was used. If you see the term “instructor” used a lot, look for other words that appear to give context, such as “great” or “horrible” to provide some context in which it’s used. Sorry, there is still some work to get some good out of your results, but at least you know what is talked about most frequently, good or bad. That, at least, is a start for you. Wordle also makes that horrible job of reading and analyzing survey results a little more fun.

If you want an example, here’s a Wordle for this blog post.
Wordle: Wordle blog post

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