R (Linux) – creating a wordcloud from PDF

On my professional website, I use wordclouds from the text of my publications as the featured images for the posts where I share the publications. I have used a website to generate those wordclouds for quite a while, but I’m trying to learn how to use the R statistical environment and knew that R can generate wordclouds. So, I thought I’d give it a try.

Here are the steps to generating a wordcloud from the text of a PDF using R.

First, in R, install the following four packages: “tm”, “SnowballC”, “wordcloud”, and “readtext”. This is done by typing the following into the R terminal:


Next, you need to load those packages into the R environment. This is done by typing the following in the R terminal:


Before we begin creating the wordcloud, we have to get the text out of the PDF file. To do this, first find out where your “working directory” is. The working directory is where the R environment will be looking for and storing files as it runs. To determine your “working directory,” use the following function:


There are no arguments for this function. It will simply return where the R environment is currently looking for and storing files.

You’ll need to put the PDF from which you want to extract data into your working directory or change your working directory to the location of your PDF (technically, you could just include the path, but putting it in your working directory is easier). To change the working directory, use the “setwd()” function. Like this:


Once you have your PDF in your working directory, you can use the readtext package to extract the text and put it into a list. You can do that using the following command:

wordbase <- readtext(“paper.pdf”)

“wordbase” is a variable I’m creating to hold the text from the PDF. “readtext” is the package that extracts the text from the PDF. The readtext package is robust enough to be able to extract text from numerous documents (see here) and is even able to determine what kind of document it is from the file extension; in this case, it recognize that it’s a PDF.

The list can now be converted into a corpus, which is a vector (see here for the different data types in R). To do this, we use the following function:

corp <- Corpus(VectorSource(wordbase))

In essence, we’re creating a new variable, “corp,” by using the Corpus function that calls the VectorSource function and applies it to the list of words in the variable “wordbase.”

We’re close to having the words ready to create the wordcloud, but it’s a good idea to clean up the corpus with several commands from the “tm” package. First, we want to make sure the corpus is a plain text:

corp <- tm_map(corp, PlainTextDocument)

Next, since we don’t want any of the punctuation included in the wordcloud, we remove the punctuation with this function from “tm”:

corp <- tm_map(corp, removePunctuation)

For my wordclouds, I don’t want numbers included. So, use this function to remove the numbers from the corpus:

corp <- tm_map(corp, removeNumbers)

Finally, I’m not interested in words like “the” or “a”, so I removed all of those words using this function:

corp <- tm_map(corp, removeWords, stopwords(‘english’))

At this point, you’re ready to generate the wordcloud. What follows is a wordcloud command, but it will generate the wordcloud in a window and you’ll then have to do a screen capture to turn the wordcloud into an image. Even so, here is the basic command:

wordcloud(corp, max.words = 100, random.order = FALSE)

To explain the command, “wordcloud” is the package and function. “corp” is the corpus containing all the words. The other components of the command are parameters that can, of course, be adjusted. “max.words” can be increased or decreased to reflect the number of words you want to include in your wordcloud. “random.order” should be set to FALSE if you want the more frequently occurring words to be in the center with the less frequently occurring words surrounding them. If you set that parameter to TRUE, the words will be in random order, like this:

There are additional parameters that can be added to the wordcloud command, including a scale parameter (scale) that adjusts the relative sizes of the more and less frequently occurring words, a minimum frequency parameter (min.freq) that will limit the plotted words to only those that occur a certain number of times, a parameter for what proportion of words should be rotated 90 degrees (rot.per). Other parameters are detailed in the wordcloud documentation here.

One of the more important parameters that can be added is color (colors). By default, wordclouds are black letters on a white background. If you want the word color to vary with the frequency, you need to create a variable that details to the wordcloud function how many colors you want and from what color palette. A number of color palettes are pre-defined in R (see here). Here’s a sample command to create a color variable that can be used with the wordcloud package:

color <- brewer.pal(8,”Spectral”)

The parameters in the parentheses indicate first, the number of colors desired (8 in the example above), and second, the palette title from the list noted above. Generating the wordcloud with the color palette applied involves adding one more variable to the command:

wordcloud(corp, max.words = 100, min.freq=15, random.order = FALSE, colors = color, scale=c(8, .3))

Finally, if you want to output the wordcloud as an image file, you can adjust the command to generate the wordcloud as, for instance, a PNG file. First, tell R to create the PNG file:

png(“wordcloud.png”, width=1280,height=800)

The text in quotes is the name of the PNG file to be created. The other two commands indicate the size of the PNG. Then create the wordcloud with the parameters you want:

wordcloud(corp, max.words = 100, random.order = FALSE, colors = color, scale=c(8, .3))

And, finally, pass the wordcloud just created on to the PNG file with this function:


If all goes according to plan, you will have created a PNG file with a wordcloud of your cleaned up corpus of text:



Source Information:

Reading PDF files into R for text mining

Building Wordclouds in R

Word cloud in R

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