Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bible Study Tips: Use Wordle


One of the most important things to do when studying any passage is to look for repetition. Repeated Words or phrases are one of the easiest ways to identify the main themes and zero in on what the author is emphasizing. Traditionally students are encouraged to circle, underline, or color code repeated key words. Despite all of the new tools we have available, I think the old way is still the best way because it forces students to engage the text and read it repeatedly. There are times, however, when this approach may not be optimal. If, for example, a person is working with a digital text, is dealing with a large section of text (the Pentateuch for example), or needs the information quickly they may be looking for another way to do the analysis.

Thankfully, there are tools that allow a student to do this kind of analysis quickly on large sections of text. The easiest way is to find a Bible study tool or website (there are several) that will show you how often a word is used in the Bible. You can then narrow the count as needed. The most basic approach not using custom Bible study tools would probably be to paste the text into a word processing tool, create a list of each word in the document, and list its frequency. Unfortunately, The most common word processing tool that students have access to is Microsoft Word and you have to load a special macro or add-in to do this. Even so, the output is going to be just a list of words and numbers similar to what you get with most of the Bible study tools. There are a few disadvantages to looking at the data this way. First, many people are visual learners and a simple list of words and numbers does not make it easy for them to understand the relationship between various word frequencies. Second, it can often be difficult to analyze such a list for very large passages.

However, a tool is free, easy to use, and available to anyone with access to the internet that works very well. Wordle.net produces a word cloud, which is a visual presentation of the relative frequency of words, for any text that a person chooses to enter (you can also get a basic list if you want). You simply go to wordle.net and paste whatever text into the tool you want to examine and the site will produce a graphic that will allow you to see the relative frequency of the words in that passage at a glance. The site automatically excludes common articles and conjunctions (the, and, etc.) and then you can easily exclude additional words by clicking on them. The result is a fast and powerful look at the relative frequency of words within any particular text.

I have found that using this tool allows me to see relationships between ideas quickly that I can then go back and trace through the passage I am studying. For example, I am currently teaching Ecclesiastes. This is the Wordle for the NASB version of Ecclesiastes.



One of the things that I had noticed in my study was that although people often think of Ecclesiastes in terms of negative themes such as vanity there is a more prevalent emphasis on God and other themes than on those we often instinctively associate with the book. Even though I had already noticed this from my study, when I looked at the graphic I realized that I still had not appreciated the extent to which this was the case. This insight led me to closer study of the God, man and time references and an increased emphasis on them in my teaching through the book.

Since the wordle tool allows for a very large amount of text, it is possible to use it for everything from a short passage to the entire Bible. Below are some examples of other selections:

Genesis Chapter 1 (ESV)
1 Peter (NASB)
 New Testament (ESV)

Entire Bible (ESV)
May God bless your continued study!

2 comments:

  1. www.HolyBibleVerse.com & BibleGateway.com are the best online Holy Bible search engines & study tools (over 200 translations of the Bible between them).

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