WORDLE: A Nifty Little Tool for Writers

I came across this program recently and had tried to recall the name because I thought it might be a useful tool for writers. Well, I was reading through the comments on Kristen Lamb’s blog (if you haven’t been there you must check it out) and, what do you know, there it was: the name of the program that had eluded me.

So, what the heck is Wordle?

Wordle is a program used to create word art from text. Words that occur more frequently are visually amplified (displayed in a larger font).  While this makes for some pretty cool art (just explore Pinterest and you will find all kinds of creative art using Wordle), there are other benefits too. For example, you can summarize survey results to see the most popular answers or pinpoint the main idea of an online discussion.

I’m sure by now you can guess the benefit for writers. It will magnify the words used most often in your writing. This can help you find words you are overusing, like those pesky little adverbs!

After I came across the post with the reference to Wordle, I jumped on the internet to find it. You can find it here: www.wordle.net. You may need to enable JAVA applets in your browser (the website provides instructions), but it’s fairly easy to use. Just paste the text into the window and press the “go” button.

I pasted my MS into the application and generated the Wordle. I discovered that the main characters in my novel were the most prominently displayed words. The next largest word was “back.” Huh? Do I really overuse that word?

I toggled back to my manuscript and read back through the document. I glanced back and forth between my MS and the Wordle. I was puzzled. Okay, not really, just surprised. I had no idea I used that word so often. I went on a search and destroy mission and discovered that in all but a few instances the word was unnecessary. UNNECESSARY! Wow, what a helpful little tool.

I wondered what the Wordle of the work of a famous author would look like. Well, there was no way I was going to type War and Peace into a document but I did happen to have a digital copy of one of Tolstoy’s short stories. I pasted A Spark Neglected Burns the House into the window and waited for a visual representation. Here is what it looks like.

Tolstoy Wordle

Hey, there’s that word again: “back.” It’s somewhat prominent in his story. I don’t feel so bad about my overuse but don’t regret removing it either. I generated a few others for comparison purposes.

The Fiddler by Herman Melville

The Fiddler by Herman Melville

The End of the Party by Graham Greene

The End of the Party by Graham Greene

The main characters were the most prominently displayed words in all three Wordles. You can get a general idea what the story is about by looking at the remaining jumble of words. Okay, well, maybe not, but it looks cool! If anything it would be an artistic way to display your creative work once it’s published. 🙂


17 thoughts on “WORDLE: A Nifty Little Tool for Writers”

  1. You’re right that IS a nifty little tool! Visually appealing and actually useful. I know a few of my Achilles’ heel words but I bet there are more – and now I can hunt them down. I’ve tucked that link away in my bookmarks and will be paying it a visit soon. Thanks so much, Melissa!

    1. You’re welcome Jill! You’re right. The visual representation of our work is useful for creative types since we tend to process things visually. I’ve read my MS a dozen times and still did not pick up on the obvious overutilization of the word “back.”

        1. Hmmm. Mine didn’t work at first either. You might have a problem with your firewall or web content filter. Check out the troubleshooting section under the FAQ tab on their site for help. BTW, I’ve been checking out your blog (love it!) and have only discovered one curse word so far; that is, if you consider “damn” a curse word 🙂

  2. Almost as soon as I saw that “back” was one of your oft-used words, I remembered a moment yesterday while writing where I had used that word TWICE in one sentence and thought to myself, How in the world am I going to write this with “back” only once?? And though I was able to do it, now I’m wondering how many other times I could be cutting it out… I can’t wait to see if my Wordle graph adequately describes the plot of my story through word usage 🙂

  3. Take a look at Tagxedo (http://www.tagxedo.com/) which is similar to Wordle but allows for shapes and a bit more control over the final product. Plus you can add website urls and make a cloud pic of it. (BTW, no affiliation with Tagxedo other than as someone who has used them both!)

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