Periodic Table of Visualization Methods – In a word, WOW!

Tool: Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

Time to Use: Less than 10 minutes

Purpose: Categorize and explore visualization methods

Description: Developed by Ralph Lengler and Martin Eppler at the University of Lugano in Switzerland, the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods is useful, fun, and thought-provoking. Lengler and Eppler have organized visualization methods into six categories:

  • Data Visualization
  • Information Visualization
  • Concept Visualization
  • Strategy Visualization
  • Metaphor Visualization
  • Compound Visualization

Within each category, they have compiled a library of visualization examples from tables and pie charts (under data visualization) to value chains and spray diagrams (under strategy visualization) – around 100 in all. Lengler and Eppler have mapped the examples to a semblance of a periodic table reminiscent of those explored in high school chemistry.

The chart itself, with its attractive layout is a site to behold. But the fun truly begins once you begin interacting with it. When rolled over, each cell pops up an example of the visualization method. For me, it has helped as a frequent reminder to think outside of the tried and true and explore the range of options available for visualization.

Notes: To learn more, be sure also to read Lengler and Eppler’s academic paper describing the development of the table at

Wordle: Visualization of qualitative data

Tool: Wordle

Time to Use: Less than 10 minutes

Cost: Free

Purpose: Produce word clouds from qualitative data

Description: This extremely easy-to-use tool creates word clouds, larger versions like the example at left, from qualitative data. It takes as input any qualitative text (may be cut and pasted directly from a word document) or RSS feed. It returns a word cloud that maps the words (omitting standard English words like ‘the’ ‘and’ and ‘to’) with word size based on frequency.

The resulting cloud may then be further customized with various color themes and formatting.


  • Takes less than five minutes to learn and creates clouds in seconds
  • Advanced version allows for creating clouds from custom lists without repeating words and using completely customizable colors
  • Draws on algorithms developed for IBM


  • Visualization of blog content based on word frequency
  • Visualization of other qualitative data, such as speeches, letters, interview transcripts
  • Wordle clouds make great report covers

Access Wordle here (use this version first and for analysis)

Access Advanced Wordle here

Google Alerts: Free notices of web content updates


Tool: Google Alerts

Time to Use: Less than 10 minutes

Cost: Free

Purpose: Scheduled notification of online content posted across the web

Description: Google alerts provides a way to be notified on a regular basis about key terms of interest to you. A natural starting point is to set up alerts for the name of the group with which you are working. However, there are many other ways to use alerts to gain knowledge about key decision-focused issues.

Let’s say you are working with a group that is striving to change the way we talk about new immigrants. Two possible phrases are “illegal immigrants” and “undocumented immigrants” and your group is working to increase use of the latter. Regular alerts would allow you to see what is being said and to respond through any of a number of channels.

Key advantages to google alerts as a decision-making tool are:

  1. Filtering: They may be scheduled for a frequency that meets your needs, including receiving notices as they occur, daily, or weekly and they may be set to look at all sources, or just news, groups, or
  2. Management: You can very easily set up and manage multiple alerts, with different frequency notices, and
  3. Delivery: They may be sent to an RSS feed, or to email, a key ease-of-use function for many.

How to:

  1. Figure out the key words or terms on which you want to set of notifications,
  2. Go to and set up one or more alerts, if using a phrase rather than a stand-alone word, but the phrase in quotes such as “undocumented immigrants”,
  3. If you set up multiple alerts, it is worth setting up a management account to be able to see and refine all of your alerts information in one place. First, set up a google account ( Then, go to the google alerts page and you will see a “manage your accounts” link that will now be live and working.

Finally, if you are not getting exactly the responses that you anticipated, refine your search using the advanced search tips found here:


  • Following key changes in campaigns or outreach efforts to allow for immediate responses
  • Updates on programs or products
  • Capacity building -allows users to become invested in looking at and using data

Blog at