Visualize Your Keywords

With the middle of the Fall semester upon us, many research and instruction librarians find themselves in the thick of instruction season. Whether it’s credit-bearing information literacy courses or one-shot workshops, it’s safe to say our library classes are in full swing.

The importance of generating and connecting related terms for keyword searching is just one of the skills frequently included in library instruction sessions. However, some students are easily frustrated in their quest for coming up with related terms; they may get “stuck” on what they consider a “perfect” term, or they may simply lack mastery of the required language skills necessary to imagine related key terms without additional help.

Librarians already employ a number of instructional techniques to help students brainstorm and generate keywords, including consulting reference materials, using group brainstorming, and identifying key terms from a related book or article. An additional tool librarians may consider incorporating into keyword instruction is a visual thesaurus like Snappy Words.

Snappy Words

Snappy Words Logo

Snappy Words is described as a free “online interactive English dictionary and thesaurus that helps you find the meanings of words and draw connections to associated words.” Basically, search for a word to two-word phrase in Snappy Words, and you’ll receive a visual, clickable map of related terms. Your map is generated based on Snappy Word’s search of the Princeton-developed WordNet lexical database. The database uses lexical relationships between words to group terms, and this data is displayed when you search Snappy Words.

Searching in Snappy Words

Searching Snappy Words is very simple. Enter your word or phrase into the search box and click “Go.” Snappy Words searches its database to create an interactive word map of synonyms and related terms. You can then zoom in or out on various portions of the map, click and drag the terms to explore relationships, and hover over terms to see definitions.

Although the site includes advertisements and links for other companies, using Snappy Words requires no registration, log-in, or other personal information. It is also worth noting that Snappy Words requires Adobe Flash, and therefore cannot be accessed on some mobile devices.

Here is a quick search I did for the word “trust.” Since this term has at least two different uses and definitions, there are multiple clusters of related words. Several synonyms connected to the search term in the center of the map, like “faith,” “confidence,” “believe,” and “trustworthy,” are related to the term trust defined as “allow without fear.” The farther out in the web you go, the farther you get away from your initial terms, including antonyms and broader terms. There is also another cluster of words related to the term trust defined as “something (as property) held by one party (the trustee) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary).”

Snappy Words sample search for "trust"

“Snappy Words” sample search

In addition to the map of related terms, Snappy Words provides a graphical representation of additional language features, including the parts of speech for each word and how the words are related to each other.

Snappy Words Chart of Term Relationships

The connections in Snappy Words demonstrates how the terms are related.

Terms are color coded based on the parts of speech, while the connecting branches between associated terms indicate the relationship. For instance, a solid grey line shows that the terms are synonymous; the dashed grey line connects terms that are derivations of each other.

In the Classroom

The language-related features of Snappy Words, including the term relationships information and definitions, could be useful in library instruction sessions when demonstrating how the keywords you choose for a given search can influence the types of results you receive.

Snappy Words seems most useful for terms that are common English-language terms, and not necessarily discipline-specific terminology. And the look and feel of an interactive thesaurus may appeal to learners who prefer to navigate and express ideas in a more visual way.

Librarians know the results from a database search are only as good as the search terms the user chooses. Helping students understand the importance of finding and choosing the correct keywords continues to be an important aspect of instruction and reference interactions in academic libraries. Will you be giving Snappy Words a try to spice-up your next keyword lesson?

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Guest Post: Lucidchart – The online flow-chart app you’ve been dreaming of.

Today we’re featuring another fantastic guest post from Emily Thompson, Learning Technologies Librarian at SUNY Oswego.

Have you ever tried to make a flowchart in Word or PowerPoint? I can feel you cringing from here. It’s kind of an awful experience. Things are hard to line up and they always end up “good enough” after hours of fiddling. It’s a frustrating process that often made me think, “Come on. There has to be something easier than this!”

Lucidchart is that something. It’s a web-based application that makes charts: mostly flow charts, but also beautiful Venn diagrams, mind mapping, and wire-framing. The beauty of the program is that thing that will take a long time in your standard word processor take minutes. This chart (made for a poster on using librarians for SUNY Oswego’s Annual Symposium on Learning and Teaching last fall) took approximately ten minutes. It looks professional and clean, and it was incredibly easy.

Lucidchart flowchart example

Flowchart created using Lucidcharts.

After signing up for an account (more on that later), you click on “New Document” and choose a template. I like to start with a blank one. The work space looks familiar, with shapes on the left, choices on the top, and a white space in the middle. To get started, you just need to grab a shape from the left and drag it onto the workspace. You can edit the fonts and colors using the choices. Then to make the next node, hover near the side  of your box. The cursor will turn into a +, click and drag and your arrow will appear. Release, and you can pick your next shape.

Lucidchart workspace

Lucidchart workspace

In addition, you can drag in your own pictures, which can be handy for building instructions that require screenshots. Under File->More Shapes, you find your options for Mind Mapping and Venn diagrams. I find the Venn circles to be particularly time-saving. Rather than spending time on powerpoint trying to get the perfect translucent overlay, Lucidchart just gives you circles. The overlay is automatic. All that’s left is a text box to label them.

Venn Diagram from Symposium on Learning and Teaching poster

This Lucidchart example is also from the Symposium on Learning and Teaching poster.

When you’re finished, the final product is downloaded from the File menu. Lucidchart gives you a choice of a pdf, jpeg, png, or a Visio. The pdfs are 8.5×11, but the others can be downloaded as a full page or a selected area. After downloading they can be added to any project just like any other image.

You can sync Lucidchart with a Google account and it will show up in your Drive. If your not on gmail, you can still share any chart with anyone else with an account.

Lucidchart icon for setting up a free educational account

Icon for setting up a free educational account

The one caveat: signing up for a free educational account is far more confusing than it should be. First you have to sign up for a paid account trial (it doesn’t ask for a credit card though). Then you have to click on your name at the top left of the screen. Once you’re in your account, you should see a grey box on the right that says “Get a free educational upgrade.”

You will only see it if you sign up with an email that ends in .edu. Students can get an individual account (after feeding Lucidchart three email addresses), but teachers and librarians need to sign up for a class account. It’s all sort of confusing and weird, but it’s such a great product that it’s worth it.


Emily Thompson is the Learning Technologies Librarian at SUNY Oswego in Oswego, New York. She spends her days seeking out new tools to help her students make their projects as awesome as possible. She also co-hosts the LiTTech podcast on edreach.us. You can follow her on Twitter @librarianofdoom.

“Year of the Infographic”

Lately, it seems like everyone on the internet is a graphic designer, with customized infographics hitting every news outlet, blog, and personal website. Some have even dubbed 2012 “The Year of the Infographic.” Now, thanks to an ever-growing group of online services, librarians without graphic design backgrounds can start creating their own infographics in just a matter of minutes.

WHAT ARE INFOGRAPHICS?

Loosely, infographics use pictures, words, graphs, and other visual elements to express information. Ideally, infographics are designed to uses these visual elements  to organize complex ideas and data into a more easily understood form. For a more detailed explanation, see “InfoGraphic Designs: Overview, Examples and Best Practices.” Or, check out the “What is an Infographic?” infographic.

BUT I’M NOT A DESIGNER

Infographics themselves, along with other data visualizations, are certainly not new. And here at LibraryTechTalk we have already discussed a few different tools for creating visualizations. But recently there are new online services that offer ready-made templates and themes users modify by adding their own data. This means slick, professional infographics can now be created by just about anyone in less time than it takes to learn more advanced graphic design software. While there has been some criticism of these types of tools and the products they create, they are potentially valuable options for the everyday user who is intimidated by more advanced applications.

Two examples I’ve recently explored:

Piktochart – Jumpstart your own infographics using one of their ready-made themes. Piktochart offers a free basic service, as well as two options to upgrade to a paid “Pro” account – Monthly or Yearly.  WIth the Free account, you can choose from 5 free infographic themes which allow for some limited color and font customization, as well as pre-loaded shapes and graphics. After you “load” a theme, you can add or change graphics, shapes, and text on the page. There is also a chart wizard where you can manually add data to make a simple chart, or you can import your own data in CSV files. You can also upload up to 5 of your own images. When you’re finished, completed iinfographics can be saved and downloaded as an image (.PNG), but with the free account all of your images will also include the Piktochart watermark.

Piktochart Screenshot

Creating an infographic with Piktochart.

Upgrading to a Pro account gives you access to over 70 additional themes, more options for customization, up to 100 slots for uploading images, downloading as raw data, and watermark-free images.

(Monthly Pro pricing is currently $14.99/mo and a Yearly Pro account is currently $129. Also, it looks like account prices will be increasing at the end of August.)

Easel.ly – Use visual themes (which they call, “vhemes”) to create and share your own infographics. Signing up for a free account gives you access to 15 vhemes. In the “creation tool,” drag and drop the vheme of choice onto the canvas, or choose to start with a blank canvas. Next, customize the infographic using Easel.ly’s pre-loaded objects, adding shapes or text, and uploading your own images. Unfortunately Easel.ly does not include any chart-making capabilities. Due to this lack of feature, Easel.ly does not necessarily stay true to the “infographic” ideals, but is an easily-accessible tool for an average user to begin exploring infographic creation.

Search Infographic

Infographic created using Easel.ly

When you are finished, Easel.ly allows  you to share your infographic in a number of ways, including downloading as a JPEG, generating a web link, or copying code to embed the image in a web page, blog, etc. You may also choose to save your infographic as “Private” (default) or “Public.”

Easel.ly is currently still in beta, which means there are likely additional tweaks and improvements ahead.

APPLICATION IN LIBRARIES

Marketing/Outreach

Librarians are thinking critically about how to translate data about our services into easily-digestible and meaningful messages. Iowa State University Library is using data visualizations (including infographics) to tell their library’s story. The American Library Association has also used an infographic to demonstrate nationwide cuts to library budgets.

Instruction

Infographics could be an additional tool in our instruction toolbox. Think about what kinds of skills might benefit from a more visual explanation. Students could create their own infographics to demonstrate what they learn in a library session. For example, Bizologie has created an infographic outlining how to research private companies.

Visual literacy

Even if we choose not to create our own infographics, we are concerned with visual literacy. As per the  ACRL’s Visual Literacy Competency Standards, “visual literacy” as “a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media.” As infographics continue to increase in popularity, librarians will play a role in helping users effectively interact with visual information.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you have a favorite infographic or tool for creating infographics? How is your library using infographics? Tired of seeing infographics everywhere?

More information:

A more extensive rundown of infographics tools is available at Daily Tekk’s “Over 100 Incredible Infographic Tools and Resources.”

iLibrarian – 9 Data Visualization Tools for Librarians and Educators

Daily Infographic – Anatomy of a Librarian Infographic

Kathy Schrock –  Infographics as Creative Assessment

Junk Charts – The coming commodization of infographics

Creately: More Than Just a Venn Diagram

Sick of drawing circles on the board to illustrate Boolean? Lines and boxes got you down? Creately (http://creately.com/) is your one stop diagram tool. From wireframes to flow charts, Creately helps you creatively create a multitude of diagrams. While newer versions of Microsoft products have some diagram tools, Creately is substantially more robust in terms of types of diagrams, shapes, images, connectors, etc. Additionally, one really nice feature of Creately is its collaborative capabilities. Not only can diagrams be shared and developed by multiple people, but Creately also allows for notes and comments.  After a diagram is created, there are several ways to use it.  PDF, PNG, and JPG downloads are available as is code for embedding online. I could see Creately used many ways in academia, but specifically in the library it could be used for:

  • Administration (organizational charts, project and workflow management)
  • Instruction (venn diagrams, mind maps)
  • Technology (database/ dataflow diagrams, website wireframes)
  • Research (data representation, presentations)
Examples of Creately  Diagrams

Examples of Creately Diagrams

Creately tools are available through a variety of ways including a web based program, a downloadable program, as a Google App, or as a plugin through JIRA, FogBugz and Confluence.  I looked at the web based version.  The web based program has several pricing options including a limited free version.  The free version allows a user to have any 5 diagrams saved online with a maximum number of 3 collaborators.   The web based Creately prices are listed here: http://creately.com/plans.  When contacting the company, I was told that there was a 50% educational discount for all of their products.  To receive the discount email: edu@creately.com.