Glossary - Vision One


Word Clouds – The art of visualizing qualitative data

What are Word Clouds?

Word Clouds are a spatial information visualization approach that is used in qualitative data analysis in market research through the organisation of text-based content into appealing visual arrangements.

Ultimately word clouds are simply colourful world collages that show the frequency of words used (or word pairs) and where the word size is varied according to how frequently it occurs in the data source – the bigger the word the more frequently it was used. Word clouds are very engaging and the key benefits are;

  • It reveals the key themes – where names and key words grab attention
  • Their complexity with lots of sizes, shapes, angles, colours mean they often work at a sub-conscious (System 1) emotional level and easy to follow
  • They’re fast to produce and communicate and can convey themes within seconds (works well in some of today’s business environments)

Perhaps the biggest weakness is that they can be lack or hide the intended meaning and simply show words that were used and their frequency. This lack of meaning can result in everyone taking something different from the word clouds which are open to interpretation and fail to convey a meaningful message (but simply be an appealing mass of words). For those interested but more critical perspective on word clouds – we would suggest you read this article form the NiemanLab.

Expert qualitative analysis is about capturing the insights and ideas customers – so whilst both simple and attractive, word clouds often strip out any meaning and therefore should be treated with caution when drawing any conclusions. So think carefully – skilled interpretation is what provides beautiful insight.

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