Presenting the essence of qualitative feedback is usually challenging. And that’s where word clouds can help. In trying to summarize the feedback for some courses that I had conducted, I sampled several existing word cloud generators (Best Word Cloud Generator, 8 best free word cloud creation tools). Though word clouds have been around for a long time, with some folks even saying that they are passe, I was surprised that there wasn’t a single tool out there that had all the features I thought I needed. See this neat comparative review on other free word cloud generators.
In this post I’ll just focus on the missing aspects and walk you through my own word cloud generator Wordaze with some use cases. These are the results of a couple of feedbacks from high school students who explored various aspects of research in basic biology with scientists (banner image above), while another is from a survey of action points that women wanted to see incorporated in their academic institutions for greater gender equality (below).
I wanted to see which topics came up the most in these surveys. After some data extraction and cleaning to collect the relevant words in excel, I was ready to create my own word cloud.
I decided to work with Jason Davies’ excellent library and add some of my own features, described below. The visualization settings are grouped in the right panel of Wordaze and can be set as per the user's preference.
Display phrases and sentences
There were sentences and phrases used in the feedback, which I needed to include in the data for it to make sense. While there are tools to generate word clouds from paragraphs of text, I utilized the ability of this library to handle discrete data presented in separate lines. There is also an option to crunch the words but I haven’t applied it in Wordaze.
Customizable font sizes and padding
I saw that adjusting fonts sizes and the padding around words, especially the longer phrases, has a huge impact and so does playing with the angles. The Jason Davies library enables experimenting with most of these features so I tweaked it a bit for exposing this utility of the API. To allow the themes to stand out I added multiple configuration options for the user to define the padding or space between the words as well as the angles of display. The font size ranges can also be controlled via a slider which is really useful to maintain readability when squeezing in larger datasets.
When there are a large number of entries, Wordaze flashes a warning in the Data panel if some entries are not being displayed. Playing with the font and size ranges should take care of this.
Color palettes for visual grouping
The new React components added include a color picker with an extensive choice of color scales. This helps choose colors that emphasize key words. The color scale is mapped to the same scale as the font size so words occurring with similar frequency are visually grouped together by color.
Display actual counts
I was especially looking for an option to display the total occurrences of the words in my dataset. This provides an understanding of the range and magnitude of difference between the common and rare words in the data and is not something I found in any of the existing tools. The count display can be toggled on and off and also has its own font size selection.
And that’s all about my very first web tool! A handy interface to play with for qualitative visualization of feedbacks and some great learnings for me. Word clouds generated using Wordaze are hosted on the Outreach sections for the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology here and here.
I intend to add a stats panel at the bottom in the next version of Wordaze and maybe an option to read from paragraphs as well, but that depends on usage. Feedback and comments are very welcome and can be mailed at email@example.com
You can generate your own word clouds with Wordaze here! From the left panel, choose the sample files described above or paste your own word list to begin.