Creating Word Clouds with Online Tools and Tableau

By Rita Xiaoyan Liu, Assistant Director, Office of Institutional Research and Planning, Bucknell University

In addition to visualizing numerical data, our Office of Institutional Research is facing increasing demands to analyze qualitative data, such as students’ comments, major choices, and course selections. Word clouds are a simple visualization that present qualitative data and attract users’ attention. If you search online using the term “word clouds,” you will find some free online tools to generate easy and quick word clouds, such as Wordle or Word Clouds. For purposes of this article, we’ll focus on Wordle.  

Example 1: Creating Word Clouds with Wordle

Wordle provides both simple and advanced options to create word clouds for users who do not have access to Tableau or other visual tools (see Figure 1).


Using the Create option, users only need to paste in a lot of text. Using the Advanced option, users need to paste weighted words or phrases in a blank box to create visualization with weighted values. Users can change the weighted value to show the level of the importance of one word compared to other words. The larger the weighted value, the bigger the font size in the word cloud. For example, some words with hypothetical weights related to assessment were dropped in the box for a quick demonstration purpose as follows:

  • Student Learning Outcome: 130

  • Faculty: 90

  • Assessment: 80

  • Institutional Research and Planning: 80

  • Rubrics: 60

  • Curriculum Mapping: 50

Wordle creates a quick word cloud as shown in Figure 2. You can use the menu bar to make desired changes for language, font, layout, and color.


Free online tools provide an easy way to create simple word clouds. Tableau provides an opportunity to create more sophisticated word clouds with interactive functions that satisfy different needs. The second example, below, demonstrates how to create this type of visual view in Tableau with step-by-step instructions.

Example 2: Creating Word Clouds with Tableau

This portion of the Tech Tip is for users with some familiarity with the Tableau interface. The tip should work in both Tableau 9.0 and 10.

At Bucknell, we are trying to visualize how students in different colleges choose their courses within or across their own college and department. The word cloud below illustrates engineering student enrollment in courses taught by the school of management, as well as management student enrollment in courses taught by the college of engineering. The course enrollment word cloud also provides an intuitive way to represent the enrollment size in a course with the largest enrollment in the largest font and lowest enrollment shown in the smallest font.

Step 1. Establish a Data Set

Column E provides the course names and Column F is the registered student headcount for each course. Both columns will be used as two main fields to create course enrollment word clouds. The rest of the columns in Figure 3 could be used as filters to allow users to drill course enrollment information down by academic term, college/school, the student’s major, and the academic division in which the course is taught.


Step 2. Import the Data in Tableau and Drag the Course Name to the Text Control of the Marks Shelf

After the data set is established, we can upload the file into Tableau by clicking the File menu and choose Open. Then go to Tableau sheet 1, drag the Course Name to the Text Control of the Marks Shelf and all courses will be listed once.


Step 3. Drag Course Registered Student Headcount to the Size Control of the Mark shelf


Step 4. Change the Mark Type from Automatic to Text.


Step 5. Drag Course Name to the Colors Control of the Mark Shelf to color the word cloud.


Step 6. Add filters on the right to make the word cloud interactive


Drag Academic Term, College/School, Major, and Course Division Description into Filters Shelf and enable Show Quick Filter when you right-click these four filters.

On the right side of the word cloud, four filters show up with multiple listed values. Now you should be able to interact with the word clouds by selecting different filters. The word cloud in Figure 7 indicates that MGMT 200 is the course with the highest enrollment out of the management courses taken by students who are enrolled in the college of engineering for fall term 2015-16.


That’s It!

You should be able to create an interactive word cloud easily and quickly using the steps listed above. Once the word cloud is done, you can select filters to see which courses have the highest enrollment across specific colleges, majors, and academic divisions in which the course is taught. You can also see the exact numbers of students enrolled in those courses if you move your cursor over the course name. For questions, please contact me via email.



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Total Comments: 1
Sathyan posted on 11/10/2016 1:48 PM
Tableau makes this easy, thanks. You can also create word clouds in R using the packages tm and wordcloud.