Word Clouds Cause Death

I used word clouds(1), created through Wordle, to show faculty and staff the results of my one-on-one discussions. Not surprisingly, “students” was the single most-cited word through all of my discussions.

I was nonplussed, then, to read this post arguing that the use of word clouds led to the lack of critical thinking about the war in Iraq.  I usually agree with the conclusions of this helpful site. They do a great job of highlighting strong examples of visual data analysis. Saying that the use of word clouds causes death, though, left me feeling at best uncomfortable and at worst overwhelmingly guilty for inflicting facile data analysis on my erudite colleagues.

I guess I’ll have to go back to pie charts.


(1) Example of the word cloud in response to the question, “What is your most important tool for figuring out what students need and how do you use this?” asked from March – June, 2011, at Harold Washington College.

Larger words used more frequently in response to the question

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with non-profit, higher education, and private-sector consulting experience.

2 thoughts on “Word Clouds Cause Death

  1. Word clouds are like maps, and I’m crazy about maps. As a 10-year-old, I’d collected hundreds of maps (still have them). In adult times, a therapist told me my childhood obsession was an unconscious attempt to “find myself.” I think it’s because, simply, maps are cool, beautiful. And that word cloud with “students,” big and central is a map for what we do and why we care. Facile, deadly (histrionic lens on this), or whatever, it’s a great visual for what makes HWC special. And look at all of those human, people-centered references: faculty, need, people, get, work, etc.. But nothing is bigger than “students,” as it should be.

  2. Still not as dangerous as PowerPoint…

    see: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/we-have-met-the-enemy-and-he-is-powerpoint-updated-yet-again

    But I suppose that’s a fallacious point, so I’ll stick with “Paying taxes causes death, too, and you wouldn’t stop doing that would you?” (see here: http://crookedtimber.org/2011/10/21/has-the-us-defense-department-killed-a-million-americans-since-2001/ )

    Then again, that one is fallacious, too.

    Dang, Well, I tried to come up with something else, but I guess I’m left with: WordClouds are pretty and fun to look at. Luckily, I think that’s enough.

    So I’m with Michael (which is reassuring, because he’s great company to keep)…

    Oh, and pie charts make me hungry. Mmmm, pie…

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