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Writing and Healing Prompt: Count Key Words

Posted on Mar 16, 2014 by

WH wordle

After writing last week some early thoughts about happiness, I decided to go back and see if I tend to use the word happiness much—and discovered I don’t! On this site—before last week (when I used it twenty or so times)—I’ve not used the word once, and in the entire draft of my book I’ve only used it seven times. I was interested to see then what words I do use and found, for instance, compassion was much more common: 50 times. Suffering: 42 times. Peace: 37.

James Pennebaker has a program that counts words and looks for patterns—and has yielded interesting results. But one can also count particular words in a Word document by simply using the find feature. It occurs to me that the pattern of words we use can be a clue to what preoccupies us.

So . . . the prompt: count key words. And you can decide what those key words might be. You can begin by looking through a few pages of your own writing and looking for patterns—what words stand out? Or you can begin by generating a list of possible candidate words and then do searches of them in your own writing. Or you can start with these four words: happiness, peace, suffering, and compassion.



You can also use Wordle to get a snapshot of key words in a piece of text or a blog. I entered my own blog and got this word picture:

(The word happiness jumped in frequency after last week’s post.)



Wordle is here.

Also: at you can analyze Twitter feeds using James Pennebaker’s program: Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). The site includes a link explaining the analytic program and leads to links for additional resources on his analysis. His program focuses on the use of pronouns, articles, prepositions, and other small words. He’s become interested, through his research, in these smaller, connecting words rather than key words.