Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How To Write Interpretive Text That Stimulates Your Visitors’ Minds and Hearts

Interpretive text writing for wayside displays, interpretive panels and visitor centers has become specialized during its one hundred year history. On a hiking trail, for example, such text must be easy to read quickly, convey important facts, and inspire an emotional connection to the natural or cultural feature your visitors are looking at. We would be so happy if your visitors fell in love with your site, inspired by the displays we make for you.

Here are some guidelines we at Erica Fielder Studio would use if we were to write interpretive text for your wayside panels.

To begin, we make the viewers experience easy and direct by picking a single focus such a particular old tree at a park filled with acorns. Then we ask ourselves these questions:

1. Does the text describe the theme as part of a larger story? Does it include expanse of time and space, how the site is being modified today, what we can expect in the future?

2. Does the writing evoke a sense of place? Does it help your visitor create an appreciation or attachment to this site? Are there cultural and spiritual values we can weave into this theme that will enhance your visitors’ understanding? Can this theme be presented as part of human history?

3. Does the text help your viewer make connections? Does it include analogies, similes and metaphors that relate to personal experiences and help lead to understanding the theme’s deeper meaning?

5. Does the text engage your visitor on an emotional level? Most of us tend to forget facts. However, when we simultaneously experience feeling, we are more likely to remember facts and their meaning over time.

Average panel viewers spend 43 seconds in front of a wayside panel or other outdoor exhibit so obviously we can’t fill it with all the facts and personal experiences we can think up. However, you’ll want them to gain as meaningful an experience as possible as they jog by. So, the text we write for you is concise and to the point. 

Here is the final text our talented text writer, Maraya Cornell, wrote about the old granary tree at Cache Creek Regional Park in northern California. She used interpretive guidelines to make it lively and personal. The colored text highlights the personal characteristics woven with the facts.

To see more tips on how to write for interpretive displays, view archived newsletters