Trending topics of and discussion: Can word clouds be useful for trend analysis?

Rigour can arguably enhance the credibility of foresight projects, but creative presentation might determine if the message sticks or not. The free and online Wordle is useful for presenting and might even be helpful in the actual research process. It helps generate “word clouds” from pasted text and might reveal some hidden patterns. For example, it has helped us get a fast overview of the most frequently used words on this blog the past 2 years:
The Wordle tool has several nice features, such as the possibility to remove common words (“and”, “a” etc.), set a maximum of displayed words, adjust the visual appearance of the cloud and even manually delete words that are not relevant. Since the launch in 2008 a wide range of users – including newspapers covering elections – have come to appreciate its updated versions of more traditional tag clouds. “Wordles have become a kind of medium of expression”, have researchers at IBM suggested.

I have personally used the tool to display opinions of managers based on semi-structured interviews. An example of a more creative use within strategic foresight is found in the Creative strategic foresight workshop playbook – prepared by Dr. Sandra Romenska and the CALF project. Researchers from CUHK at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have also published work on their experiments with using Wordle for analyses. “Word clouds can be a useful tool for preliminary analysis and for validation of previous findings” they write in their The Qualitative Report article (McNaught, C. & Lam, P. 2010). However, the authors conclude that due to some limitations Wordle should not be used as a stand-alone method, and that it works better on raw transcriptions rather than on second-level summaries.

Another tool – more on the light side – is Make beliefs comix. Comic strips are sometimes welcome breaks in presentations. Instead of Googling for a strip that fits your purpose it is possible to customize one, helped by artists Bill Zimmermann and Tom Bloom. Maybe it could even be a useful workshop tool? Here is a test strip on strategic foresight:

Do you know about other good – preferably also free – online presentation and/or research tools? If yes, your recommendation will be much appreciated.

Comments are closed.