Monday, April 18, 2011

Wordle Word Clouds:
Earlier this year I bumped into Wordle.net, a cool website for creating a word cloud from a document. In addition to being a cool piece of art, it's actually a very useful tool for getting a left-brain look at what you've written, which is useful because writing a research paper is essentially a right-brain activity. I've put a few of my papers through the process, and you can see the results here.

It's also useful for finding out whether the sense of what you've written is exactly what you've intended. I've found that when you proofread a paper, what you tend to see is what you were thinking when you wrote it, not what is actually there. What wordle does is present the same information that you can view more dispassionately.

Take for example the NSF proposal I put together with my research student Jon Doran this semester. The initial word cloud looked like this.

The thing that leaped out immediately was that we had overused the word "may".


An NSF proposal is not the place to be imprecise, at least not to this level. Looking at the places we used "may" we found quite a few places where there were holes in our argument that needed explaining better. We ended up with this word cloud:


Much better.

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