Ahead in the Clouds


Everyone loves new toys at Christmas. Mine is a new fitness tracker, which will tell me, down to the very step, just how lazy I am. I’ve no doubt I’ll be ripping it off my arm by mid-March as I complain about the thing’s negative attitude.

Along with the Fitbit, I found another new toy, and this one doesn’t cost a thing. I maybe behind the curve on this, and Millennials may tell me it’s already passé, but for this curmudgeonly old writer, it’s a fun and remarkably useful tool. Welcome to the world of Word Clouds.

Now, I appreciate Facebook just rolled out a Word Cloud algorithm which provided a moment or two of entertainment. It’s always interesting to look at the words we use on a daily basis. The most shocking thing about my Facebook Word Cloud was that there weren’t more curse words on the page; clearly, I’m slipping.

The one pictured above was produced from my short story Absolution Solution, and it’s enlightening to see the major aspects of my storyline and characters in graphic form. It provides me with a visual touchstone on whether my story is emerging as I’d intended, or whether I’ve unintentionally diverted my plot to places it doesn’t need to be.

I’m not the only one who thinks this type of graphic is of value educationally. In her excellent online article 5 Ways To Use Word Clouds In The Classroom on educator site Edudemic, Siobhan Tumeltry suggests that Word Clouds can be used to encourage students to:

  • Expand their vocabulary

  • Use as a self-assessment tool (which is effectively what I’m doing)

  • Use as part of an activating strategy for recognizing pre- and post-lecture understanding of a subject

  • Use as a get-to-know-you tool for new students at the beginning of a school session

  • Use as an assessment comprehension tool

I think it would also be a great tool for students that are learning English as a second language. By using the graphic as a touchstone for previously learned vocabulary, students will feel more confident in constructing sentences that combine new and previously learned words.

From what I researched, there are various on-line Word Cloud generators available, most of which are free. I used the one on the ProWritingAid.com site, as I use the site as an online editor for my work. I have a paid account, but I checked to see whether it’s available at no cost, which it is. It can be accessed from the Resources link at the bottom of their web pages.

Along with running my stories through ProWritingAid’s editing software, from now on I’ll be generating a Word Cloud of them. I find them educational. They are also very, very “purty.” Being a girl, I like that stuff.

Do you have a Word Cloud generator you use on a regular basis? Please share the product and your experiences with it in the comments below. If you have other tools you find useful for analyzing your writing progress, we’d love to hear about that too!

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