Visual Communication: Wordle and The Blue Carbuncle

Using Wordle as a tool of choice to create a world cloud visualization of Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, different facets of the novel became at once apparent. Words coming into focus the most — distinct to this particular story — include bird, stone, hat, goose, and Christmas. In the context of familiarization with the story as well as others revolving around Holmes’ adventures, further words appear to be, more or less, distinct to the series of stories as a whole; not just the Blue Carbuncle.

(image links to a scalable pdf attachment)

In such a case, it’d be interesting to see a list of most common words used by Conan Doyle compiled into their own list of words to exclude, perhaps revealing key facets of each particular story. By title, I may not remember with as much precision the different elements of a story, but to study by keywords may bring into play word associations. In and of itself, Wordle appears to be a tool to pick up on key elements without connecting them to others (as opposed to what we had seen in class, where words were shown in relation to other words that either followed or preceded them).

Insofar as design, the options made available are limited but still possess the ability to depict information derived from the data in a manner that makes sense. I’ve used Chunk Five here, as designed by The League of Moveable Type. Recalling the explosion of type from the industrial revolution, such heavy slab-serif typefaces are one of many innovations resulting from the period. From the selection available through Wordle, this felt to be relatively appropriate, despite being a modern revival of old wood type. The cloud could do with a bit more white space between words, but the main point of a visualisation is to communicate information. While there’s always room for improvement on any sort of project, the visualisation does indeed communicate recurring motifs within The Blue Carbuncle.

Beyond this visualisation, I’d be interested to see the frequency of the key words in relation to the uncovering of each clue. Edward Tufte’s visualisation of Napoleon’s March to Moscow does a succinct job at conveying change data throughout both time and change in geography. Taking into consideration past discussions on mapping London, it may become a good point of reference going on into the semester. The library has several of Tufte’s books, which I’ll undoubtedly have to check out.

— Megan Doty


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