Wordle…building clouds with meaning

Name: Wordle
Cost: Free
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

Wordle LogoI like text. Not necessarily “texting,” but text….words represented with interesting fonts, colors, and styles. I am one of those people who can spend 30 minutes trying a variety of fonts in PowerPoint or Word before finally choosing a font that is both readable and interesting, unless it’s my dissertation, and then it’s boring Times New Roman. When the “word cloud” idea became a graphic trend several years ago, I would actually spend a significant amount of time creating my own by selecting each word, applying a different font, and then turning the word so that it’d be horizontal or vertical. Fortunately, a smart person created a free tool so that I can reclaim some of that potentially wasted time–Wordle. Note: I suspect the word-cloud trend isn’t as popular, but I think word clouds are like Converse…never out of style, but not entirely appropriate for every situation.

View of Wordle workspace

This is what the workspace looks like before adding text, which just shows up as text until you create the cloud.

Goal: Create a graphic that represents key words or concepts


  • Graphic can be saved as a .png file (with button on the screen). I also use Jing to capture it if the button is being quirky (…it says it saves the file, but doesn’t sometimes).
  • The Advanced tab allows you to have more control over the size of the words. Before finding this feature, I just added the word a dozen times to my list of words in order to get it to appear bigger than others. Giving numerical weight to words is significantly easier.
  • Easily paste text into the tool and create a word cloud
  • modify the font size, color, and layout, though each modification reorders the text in the cloud.


  • (Not the tool’s fault) Some people don’t respond well to the chaos of a word cloud. Students with ADHD have reported they don’t like the word cloud approach. Journalists have also concluded that word clouds should be abandoned. I still think they’re interesting to look at, but I’m a word-geek.
  • When you change the font color (or other characteristic), the words reorganize randomly again.
  • You need to “activate” Java every time you want to use the tool (in Firefox). Sometimes, you need to activate Java a few times and hope it does not freeze your screen or kill your Firefox sessions.

View of advanced Wordle workspace

This is the Advanced view, with a sample above the textbox to give an indication of how to use this version.

Insider View: Save the text to a document prior to clicking “Go” because you can’t go back and easily edit the text once the graphic is created. I use Notepad to save the words. Also, when using the Advanced feature and giving numerical weight to the words, less than 100 is too small, especially if you go up to 500 with some words.

Final Thoughts: I think this type of graphic is a personal preference, as I like words, font, color, and design used in a way that I can sort of “explore” the graphic. The graphic is likely more decorative than informative, so I generally pair it with audio content in order to emphasize the key message that should be gained.

Link: http://www.wordle.net/


Wordle sample 1

I use this in a slide presentation to let students choose a word that describes effective writing (and what they can do to reach that goal).

Wordle sample 2

This is the final product prior to saving. From this screen, you can modify font, color, and layout, and then save the graphic.

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