Survey Tips

Presenting Qualitative Survey Data with Word Clouds

Sandy McKee
6 min read

Finding ways to give others insight into your qualitative survey data can be challenging. You often end up with pages of response text, which would quickly overwhelm readers. However, word clouds are a great option for instant accessibility to this qualitative data.

Word clouds can add clarity during text analysis in order to effectively communicate your data results. Word clouds can also reveal patterns in your responses that may guide future analysis.

What is a Word Cloud Anyway?

Word clouds are a method for visually presenting text data. They are popular for text analysis because they make it easy to spot word frequencies. The more frequent the work is used, the larger and bolder it is displayed.

Here is an example of a word cloud based on President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech:

SurveyGizmo blog - what is a word cloud?

For comparison, here is his 2014 State of the Union Address:

SurveyGizmo Blog - 2014 SOU Address Word Cloud
Source: USA Today

Word Clouds Add Clarity

Word clouds can identify trends and patterns that would otherwise be unclear or difficult to see in a tabular format.

Frequently used keywords stand out better in a word cloud. Common words that might be overlooked in tabular form are highlighted in larger text making them pop out when displayed in a word cloud.

They can be an effective method for analyzing text-data.

Word Clouds Are An Effective Communication Tool

Here are 3 reasons why you should use a word cloud when sharing your qualitative findings. Just like an infographic and other compelling pictorial representations, they:

  • Make an impact
  • Are easy to understand
  • Can easily be shared



Word clouds are impactful

Word clouds are a fun way to share your open text survey responses. They can shed a surprisingly new light on what would otherwise be viewed as ‘ho-hum’ data. You are far more likely to captivate your audience with a word cloud than a table or a bar graph.

Word clouds are especially impactful when shaped into an image that reflects your topic or theme. Various word cloud tools such as Wordle, Tagxedo and Tag Crowd, make it easy for you to do this. Like this one for instance on American’s perception of the overall condition of the U.S. economy:

SurveyGizmo Blog: American Perception Word Cloud

A word cloud is a great tool for communicating your most salient points. They’re perfect for calling attention to a common theme.

Word clouds are easy to understand

Besides being more visually appealing than a table of data, word clouds are easier to understand. When an appropriate title is used, they are pretty self-explanatory.

Using the example above, it is rather obvious that the bolder, larger words, ‘uncertain’, ‘sluggish’, and ‘weak’, represent a stronger reflection of those sentiments. The image sums it up quite nicely – no further explanation is required.

A picture after all, is worth 1,000 words.

Word clouds are easy to share

Another advantage of using a pictorial representation of your data, is that images are far more likely to be shared than textual data. This is why image-based social media sites are so popular.

For this very reason, it is not surprising that they are increasingly used for collecting qualitative data as well as for communicating results. This is not likely to change any time soon.

If you want to reach new marketing channels, a word cloud image will allow you to promote your message on image-based platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Who Is A Word Cloud For?

Word clouds are not just for researchers; marketers are using them to convey customer sentiments, and employers are using them to communicate internally with employees.

Here is a short list of who is using them and how they are being used in case you are looking for new ideas:

  • Q researchers – for communicating qualitative data.
  • Marketers – to highlight customer needs and pain points.
  • Non-profits – as an affordable method to collect and share sentiment on social media sites.
  • Human resources – to engage employees by sharing common sources of frustration and show where they feel they are making the greatest impact.
  • Educators – to convey important issues.
  • Politicians and journalist – to share the latest political pulse.

The Drawbacks of Using a Word Cloud

Some words of caution before deciding to use a word cloud for your qualitative data:

  • While they can help you clarify your findings, they do not actually analyze the data. You still need to organize and interpret the data yourself. This means you need to clean your text data before plugging it into a word cloud generator.
  • Keep in mind that word clouds emphasize frequency of words, not necessarily their importance.
  • They also do not provide context, so the meaning of individual words may be lost. Because of these limitations, word clouds are best suited for exploratory qualitative analysis.
  • The biggest problem with word clouds however, is that they are often used in situations where textual analysis is not appropriate. Word clouds make sense when analyzing word usage. They are not an effective tool for exploring complex topics such as the budget or healthcare crisis.

Tips For Using Word Clouds

Before creating your word cloud, there are steps you need to take in order to create the most accurate reflection of your text data. You should:

  • Take time to clean your data
    • Scrub your open text before importing your keywords into a word cloud generator. Some words may need to be hyphenated in order to maintain their meaning. Conversational fillers such as “you know” or “like” need to be removed. Don’t exclude the negatives like ‘don’t’ and ‘won’t’ or else you risk changing the meaning.

If different variations of a word are used for the same idea, you need to decide the best way to reflect the content of the text. For example, ‘insignificant’, ‘unimportant’, ‘trivial’ and ‘trifling’ may all be used. You will need to decide if it is best to combine these into one bucket or treat them as separate categories. If you do combine similar words, then the challenge is that the word cloud does not accurately reflect the content of the text.

  • Be consistent with your keywords
    Some word cloud tools do not recognize capitalized and uncapitalized or singular and plural words as the same. You will need to be consistent when combing through the data.
  • Validate your findings
    Re-review your open text comments and make sure they correlate with your word cloud display.
  • Communicate the limitations
    Share with your audience that while the word cloud emphasizes your findings it does not tell the whole story. Be clear that the size of the words reflect frequency, not importance or the exact context.

The Benefits of Using a Word Cloud

Word clouds can dazzle your audience with what might be otherwise viewed as every-day, information. Not only are they attention grabbing, they’re also easy to use and inexpensive. But best of all, they are easy to understand and share.

What is your opinion on using a word cloud to share your qualitative data?

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