It is beyond the scope of this website to suggest approaches and examples of effective community heritage interpretation. There are so many excellent examples, and so many novel and creative approaches, that it must be left to groups and communities to discover their own models and to mould them to their own needs. The many examples of products and activities showcased on this site's Featured Projects section offer some good food for thought.
At the same time, Heritage Manitoba offers these observations about interpretation that have proven effective for many groups and communities as they ponder what to say and how to say it:
Who is your audience?
- Remember that you are writing for the public, usually not for yourself, a family or even a small group in the community
- You are trying to inform as many people as possible
What should you say?
- Most of the interpretive materials that are developed by groups and communities are short – articles, plaque texts, tour texts, educational materials
- They may range from a paragraph of 150 words to not much more than five paragraphs – 750 words
- You are usually writing to be persuasive, to advise a reader or a visitor about an interesting or important subject that merits their attention
- Given this goal you need to think about the most effective ways to grab and hold their attention
- Reciting names and dates is usually not the best approach
- Gradually developing a "story" with good facts and information that leads at the end to the major point or the key claim is not necessarily the most effective approach either
What is the key point?
- It is often better to start with the claim or the key fact and then reinforce that claim with additional facts, details and information
- Thus it is suggested that writers determine what the key fact or issue is, and state that up front
- This is not always clear and sometimes requires some careful thought
- Consult with others about this aspect of the interpretation
- Ask why the subject or resource is significant
- What is the main claim?
- What other secondary claims can be made?
- A good way to identify the claims (also often called values) associated with a subject or site is to set up the following sentence and then fill in the blank: "X is important because: ____________."
- Having established this simple equation greatly simplifies the search for values
- Determine the claim, and be accurate with the claim
- Superlative claims—the oldest, the best, the first, the last— are excellent ways to grab attention
- But the facts need to hold up
Write it down
- Use strong and interesting words and sometimes even use technical terms – this is occasionally necessary for buildings
- Resources and Guides/Writing an Effective Plaque Description, provides some guidance on writing approaches and techniques
- While focused on the development of short plaque texts, the suggestions can easily be adapted to other communication situations
- Keep asking why a reader/viewer should be attending to this product – at each step and with each sentence
- Organize information according to a logical sequence, or as a hierarchy
Review, review and review again
- Be ready to rewrite and rework
- Have other people review your product and respect their viewpoints
- Ensure that you have an editing process as part of the project
- Ensure that someone with high levels of knowledge about grammar and spelling has reviewed the text