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WORD CLOUDS - LOVE THEM OR HATE THEM?

A fusion of right and left brain thinking

There is some scepticism in the research industry about the use of word clouds for the analysis and representation of research data. Opinions are often divided - researchers and research users alike, they either love them or hate them.

At Silver Dialogue we have experimented extensively with the technology and application of word clouds and we now firmly believe that they are an essential part of the research tool-kit. Word clouds attempt to fuse right brain and left brain thinking and for this reason they can be particularly helpful in communicating research insights to different audiences.

How we became convinced by the value of word clouds

Silver Dialogue undertook an online membership survey for the Association for Qualitative Research (AQR) and included an automated word cloud analysis. We also analysed a number of open-ended text based questions from the survey in the more traditional way, i.e. with a researcher manually coding and categorising responses.

The word cloud provided an instant summary of the sentiment of feeling. It gave a succinct, two-dimensional, visual map of the words used by members to describe their experiences of AQR (see below). The bigger the font for each word, the more often that word was used by the respondents.

Overcoming the scepticism

In comparing the word cloud with the output from the researcher's manual analysis, it was clear that the word cloud was an excellent top-line summary of the results. The two approaches worked well In tandem, with the detailed content from the manual analysis illuminating the reasons why words appeared in the word cloud.

Some of the AQR Committee had been sceptical about the use of word clouds but when they saw this example, they agreed that it was a good representation of the views of their members. As a result, they published it in their membership directory.

Ken Parker - Chair of AQR - added this comment to the debate, "I have to say I am personally against Word Clouds being used in a short cut for analysing qualitative research (one of my pet subjects!), but this AQR example counters my sceptical thoughts! So, while I'm generally against them, for more simplistic purposes, I can see they might be beneficial."

 

For more information about how to use word clouds and other research techniques to improve the analysis, interpretation and communication of your research, whether qualitative or quantitative, please do contact our research team via email: engage@silverdialogue.com or tel: 0845 154 4 154.


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