The Joy of Text: Writing Effective Text

Choose what to say and say it well. These were the two key messages from the MA’s training day I attended this week. The session was set up like a conference, with six speakers offering text tips from their experience. All of their points supported this principle.

Museum text appears on place rather than page. Fernando Lai Cuoto showed a brilliant way of using museum space to convey meaning. Scott’s Last Expedition plotted a plan of Scott’s hut onto the exhibition floor (in an effect similar to Lars von Trier’s Dogville‘). It showed, rather than told, visitors about the living space.

Captions can feel cramped, and sometimes people vaguely suggest that extra information can be ‘put online’. Mark Green‘s presentation was a helpful reminder that website users are usually there to get at something, rather than browse. Green’s lively talk reminded me of  Adeola Enigbokan‘s paper at the IBG-RGS annual conference last year, in which she described online research as ‘dumpster diving’ – a kind of purposeful rummaging.

The best training sessions leave you feeling inspired, and this one has done. It made me think carefully about why we choose to communicate with words and whether this is always the best way to convey meaning. Sometimes writing effective text means having the skill to decide what not to say. I often find I link ideas back to Cathy Ross’ argument that curating is a skill of knowing what to leave out. I think the training session echoed her sentiment.

More links:

Claire Ross and Jane Audas gave a frank and thoughtful talk about their experimentation with social interpretation.

Lucy Harland recommended the Guardian’s style guide. The guide’s twitter account is also a handy follow for pressing questions (e.g.: “Florence + the Machine not “and” or “&””.)

Mark Green suggested looking at Jakob Nielson’s website as one method of presenting information.

Kirsty Devine from the Riverside Museum showed examples of some very interesting e-story books.

Nat Edwards told us about the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Edwards reminded the audience that language isn’t just technical but social and political. He argued that given the right tools visitors will work to learn from language.


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