Sarajoy Pond on Wordle

My name is SaraJoy Pond, and I am a doctoral candidate at Brigham Young University.  I’m particularly interested in evaluation capacity-building for social change.

Cool Trick: Chances are, if you’ve worked at all with qualitative data sets, you know the feeling of “drowning in data.” The end of an evaluation engagement often leaves me swimming in reams of interview transcripts, gigabytes of video, and hours of audio (somehow always virtually inaudible) wondering “where do I even start!?”  Wordle is a free web-based word cloud generator, has come to my rescue many times. Simply paste in your transcripts or notes and in seconds, you’re looking at an intuitive visualization of “themes” from the text.

Though the tool itself relies on “quantification” (as compared to true qualitative analysis, my professors inform me) I find it invaluable for wrapping my head around that first stage of qualitative data analysis.


  • Sort the responses to a question by stakeholder group, then compare the resulting wordle images to see differences in how each group responded.
  • Make periodic wordles of your own field notes to see how your impressions, interpretations and judgments varied or evolved over the course of a study.
  • Include a wordle image in your evaluation report to help stakeholders see how the themes you discuss “emerged.”

Wordle is available at

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to

10 thoughts on “Sarajoy Pond on Wordle”

  1. I just noticed I don’t see the tip here for combining phrases. In your Wordle text box you can combine word phrases with a “~”.
    For instance in my work I may be looking for comments on students with disabilities. In your text you can do a find and replace:
    students with disabilities to
    and Wordle will then know to combine those into a phrase.

  2. This seems like a very interesting tool with some good potential!

    I don’t think this can replace careful analysis by the evaluator, however, for a couple of reasons:

    a. A word might be mentioned frequently by one person, and therefore not be a “theme” common to multiple participants
    b. People often use different language for a similar concept.

    So, I can see it being a good starting point, but I would be hesitant to say that Wordle is identifying the “most important” themes. I think we still need a person to do that!

  3. For members only, the screencast and recording of the Coffee Break Webinar SaraJoy Pond and Susan Kistler offered on Using Wordle for Qualitative Data Exploration, Idea Generation, and Reporting may be accessed here

    Not a member? Her handout on resources for learning more about Wordle may be found in the AEA Public eLibrary here I encourage you to consider joining and thus gaining access to AEA’s webinars archive library (as well as journals, professional development, thought leaders discussions, newsletters…). Join now online at

  4. Pingback: Susan Kistler on Making the Most of a Blog - AEA365

  5. Thanks SaraJoy,

    I believe that this tip will come in handy over the next few months for me and my colleagues. We are completing an assessment of a social justice leadership institute and decided that we would put an “experience wall” up for participants to reflect on each of the days activities. We are hoping that this would give us good feedback on their experiences and the pro’s and con’s of the institute. However, we were worried about the large amount of qualitative data that this would leave us (50 participants over a semester of workshops). Additionally, we wanted at the end of the semester to reveal to the participants the overall themes that emerged, and I feel that this program will allow us to be successful.

    Thanks again!

  6. Yes! SaraJoy, completely true. I have dropped my own writing in (both blog and even just reports) as it gives intriguing insight into word choice, etc. For instance, I have found that I use the word ‘intriguing’ a lot…

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  8. Hi Sarajoy,

    Wordle was originally brought to my attention by Susan (above) almost a year ago. Since then, I’ve used it in a variety of capacities, from academic research to applied evaluation projects. Every time I’ve used it, my audience has been WOWed by its intuitive way of visualizing data. No matter one’s research experience, they can naturally interpret the importance of a theme by its relative size and prominence. I just wished the developer would make Wordle open-source, but I understand it’s based upon proprietary IBM code. Nonetheless, there are some open-source projects out there, which aren’t as good as Wordle, but are strides in the right direction.

  9. Thanks Susan!

    Combine that tip about the putting in a URL to analyze all the text on a blog with the one suggesting a blog for project notes, updates, and even reports, and you’ve just saved yourself a LOT of time–and become much more transparent and open in the process. Great tip.

    Also, in the more advanced settings of wordle, you can set it to exclude certain words from the cloud–sometimes handy if you need to show finer discrimination.

  10. Sarajoy,

    Thanks for sharing about such a great tool – I love wordle!

    Another tip: If you have a blog – or want to analyze a blog, you can just put the URL from the blog directly into wordle and it will create a wordcloud from your blog’s posts. Here’s the one from the aea365 blog that I popped in this morning.

    You can see it full size here:

    If you are going to post your wordcloud anywhere – on a blog or in a report, there are lots of settings you can work with to customize the colors and layout – or just use the big ‘randomize’ button at the bottom. Each time you click randomize, you get a different layout and color scheme. Click until your heart’s content!

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