Use Wordle to expose key words in Scripture

Some Bible study methods, including the inductive method, emphasize key words and repeated phrases to help you identify themes in Scripture. (Hunting for key words may be my favorite part of the observation process. It’s like being a detective or even like playing a word game.)

Wordle: Bible Study

Wordle is a simple, free, online service for creating word clouds (collages) from text that you supply. Wordle emphasizes repeated words from the source text in the resulting collage. The more often a particular word is repeated, the larger the font it receives in the word cloud, which makes Wordle ideally suited for exposing key words in Scripture.

Not only is Wordle useful, it’s just plain fun!  You can customize your word clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

In this article, we will focus on using Wordle to reveal key words (and themes) in Scripture.  However, there are countless ways to use Wordle :

  • Print your word clouds to use as handouts or visual aids in Bible study class.
  • Place them in your weekly church bulletin.
  • Send links for your Wordle images to your friends.
  • Embed the images directly into your website or blog.
  • Use them as screensavers.
  • Create attractive book covers.
  • Have t-shirts printed with your Wordles.

The ideas are limited only by your imagination.  And because there are no licensing restrictions on the images you create, you can even sell them.

Bible Study Examples

Let’s look at a couple of examples that highlight key words for Bible study, and then we will look at how it’s done.

As I was studying Zechariah chapter 12, I noticed that I was repeatedly marking the phrase that day.  Just for fun, I decided to drop the full text of Zechariah 12 into Wordle, and I got the following word cloud.

Wordle: Zechariah 12 NASB

From the image above, we can immediately see the topics in Zechariah 12.  Lord or God will, of course, be a repeated word in nearly every chapter of the Bible, so it is not so unexpected to see Lord prominently displayed in this Wordle.  (After all, it is His book!)

Beyond that, we can easily see that Zechariah 12 focuses on Jerusalem, Judah, house, David, and that day.  The prominence of the word like would also seem to indicate that the author makes frequent use of comparisons, which is noteworthy.

Even if you have never read Zechariah chapter 12, you already have some ideas about its content just from observing this simple word collage.  This would be a great way for teachers to introduce a Bible study lesson.

Because this example bore such interesting fruit, I decided to copy and paste the entire text of the book of Zechariah into Wordle.  Look at this fascinating result!

Wordle: Zechariah NASB

I was stunned that this randomly generated word art chose to display the most oft repeated key word, Lord, in enormous letters beneath all the other words!  It seems to shout that the Lord is the foundation of all things.  It makes you want to praise God!

We can also see that His name, Lord of hosts, receives significant billing in the book of Zechariah (which actually has bearing on the message of the book).  As with Zechariah chapter 12 above, we see that Jerusalem, Judah, house, and that day are key words throughout the entire book of Zechariah as are land, nations, and angel.

Sometimes, seemingly common words will be featured in your Wordle (though the most common words, such as the, and, but, etc., will be omitted by default).  In our Wordle of the book of Zechariah, declares and saying are examples of fairly common words that appear to be repeated rather frequently.  You might not always mark these as key words in your Bible.  However, by the inclusion of these words in our word cloud, we can infer that the Lord of hosts (armies) has something to say about Jerusalem and Judah in that day (referring to the future).  Indeed, Zechariah is a prophetic book centering on Jerusalem and Judah.

As you can see, using Wordle to expose key words in Scripture can be a useful and compelling exercise.  Give it a try, and feel free to share links to your Wordles in the comments below.  We can all use the encouragement!

How to Create Wordles

Now let’s look at how to create Wordles:

  1. Navigate your browser to http://www.wordle.net.
  2. Click the Create option at the top of the page.
  3. Copy your source text from another website or Bible study tool (such as e-Sword), and paste it into Wordle’s text field.  (You can also manually type your text into Wordle.  Although this can be tedious, there may be instances where this can be handy.)
  4. Click the Go button.
  5. If desired, customize the style of your Wordle, using the Font, Layout, and Color menus.
  6. Then take a screenshot of your Wordle, or use the Print button or the “Save to public gallery” button to put your finished word cloud to work.

Here’s a brief video tutorial demonstrating how to create and edit a Wordle:

Additional Wordle Tips

Phrases

Wordle will only count individual words by default.  However, you can force Wordle to keep certain words together in phrases (as I did with the phrase that day in the examples above).  Use the tilde key (~) to join words into phrases.

For example, I used Microsoft Word to quickly Find & Replace every instance of that day in the book of Zechariah with that~day.  This forced Wordle to treat the phrase that~day as a single entity in its word calculations.  (Note that the tilde (~) will not show in your word cloud.  It will be replaced by a space in your final image.)

If you are unsure how to do this, watch this brief video tutorial.  Don’t worry; it’s easy!

Word Forms

Wordle counts different forms of the same word independently.  Therefore, a key word may not appear as prominently in your word cloud as it otherwise would if all the various forms of the word were added together.  For example, suffering is a key word in 1 Peter.  However, it appears in various forms throughout the book:  suffer, suffers, suffered, suffering, sufferings.

If you are preparing a visual aid for a Bible study lesson or a similar situation, you might want to paste your source text into Microsoft Word first and use the Find & Replace feature to replace the various forms of a key word with a single form of that word.  Then copy your modified text into Wordle.

Using the 1 Peter example, I replaced suffer, suffers, suffered, and sufferings with the word suffering, so that my resulting Wordle (below) would reflect an accurate count of the number of times this theme occurred throughout the book.

Wordle: 1 Peter NASB

Synonyms

Like “word forms” (above), Wordle does not count synonyms as a single key word.  This could reduce the significance, and therefore the font size, of a key word or theme in your resulting word cloud.

Again, using the Find & Replace feature in Microsoft Word, you could replace synonyms of known key words with a single term to ensure that the key word receives appropriate respect in the final word cluster.

An example would be 2 Timothy, where suffering is a key word.  Depending on your Bible translation, you will encounter various synonyms for suffering in 2 Timothy, such as hardship, persecution, trial, or tribulation.

Summary

Identifying key words in Scripture is a great way to build your knowledge and understanding of God’s word.  A simple tool like Wordle can very quickly reveal key words in a passage or book of the Bible, which can be both enlightening and encouraging.

If you plan to use your Wordles for teaching or for publication, you may want to spend a few minutes preparing your source text by consolidating phrases, word forms, and synonyms before generating your final Wordle image.

And if you find that creating Wordles to expose key words in Scripture is useful, be sure to share your artwork with us in the comments below!

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One Response to “Use Wordle to expose key words in Scripture”

  1. These are some great instructions and examples. I’ve seen a lot of wordles and found a place that hosts wordles of different categories including Bible wordles. Its at http://www.wordlewordcloud.com

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