Working With Word Clouds

We speechwriters don’t end up with much to show for our efforts. While the words we write may change what people think, believe or are willing to do, our only souvenir of the assignment might be a paper text, an entry on a Web site (text again), or maybe a video recording of the speaker on the podium. But have you ever asked your friends over to watch the video of a speech you wrote? Probably not…

Well there is a way to create a memento that you could hang on the wall if you were so inclined. Make a word cloud. To do that go to www.wordle.net, follow the simple instructions and congratulate yourself on your artistry.

Wordle is the brainchild of a man who thinks outside the font. His name is Jonathan Feinberg and he developed Wordle as a means of drawing pictures with words. The tool is free and anyone can use it to make word clouds for their own use or to share with the world. Users have licence to do whatever they like with their creations: publish them on paper or online, for instance, or even emblazon them on t-shirts and mugs.

Wordle applies weight to the words in the source text. The more frequently a word occurs, the larger it appears in the word cloud. (Allowances are made for words such as ‘a’ and ‘the’ to keep things manageable.)

So, pour a speech into the hopper, wait a few seconds and then gaze upon the glory of your creation. You can tweak your efforts endlessly to change the colour, font and arrangement. Once you’re happy with the results, save the word cloud as a screen shot and treat it like an image.

Keep in mind, however, that the word clouds Wordle generates are meant to be decorative. They’re not analytical tools. Take for example a word cloud made from the speech Pierre Trudeau delivered on the eve of the 1980 Quebec Referendum. While he was firmly on the ‘no’ side of the debate and said so repeatedly, the word ‘yes’ figured prominently in the word cloud. I suspect Wordle eliminated ‘no’ as a freestanding word because it’s also a common syllable.

Despite the odd glitch, some of which can be fixed with some experimentation, Wordle is a great tool for creating interesting graphics from words. It’s fun to play with too.

Ideas for Using Word Clouds

• Illustrate a Web post of a speech
• Illustrate a newsletter or magazine article about a speech
• Illustrate a cover page for a hard copy of a speech
• Decorate your office wall
• Save in a journal where you document each speech that you write

If you can think of other ways to use them, please add a comment.

Examples of Speech Word Clouds:

The speech Pierre Trudeau gave on the eve of the Quebec Referendum 1980

Speech wordle


The speech current Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered to the
United Nations, September 23, 2010

More wordles














The speech environmentalist David Suzuki delivered in Los Angeles to the Governors’ Climate Change Summit in 2008

Another wordle














Finally: The description of my workshop Speechwriting: The Basics & Beyond (shameless self promotion)

Another wordle