When walking into museums, visitors already have expectations about what they will encounter inside. Whether they are there to see a specific object or exhibit everyone expects to confront an artifact and learn about it. What visitors might not think about is how they receive the information pertaining to these objects which can come from a docent, a guide, a label, or an online source. The written word is so relied upon by museums that a visitor will encounter text from the moment they enter a museum, throughout the visit, and until they leave. This means that everywhere they look there will be something to read from exhibit labels to restroom, and cafe signs.
Writing good museum text is more of an art form than an exact science due to the number of different writing styles available and the differing tastes of writers and readers. Even though the process is not exact, there are guidelines that can be followed to guide museum professionals and to give visitors the most out of their trip to a museum. By examining best practices laid out by the American Alliance of Museums and International Council of Museums and through good writing techniques from authors such as Beverly Serrell and Stephen Bitgood, this paper will lay some groundwork for what separates poor text from excellent text in a museum, as well as how to use these techniques to create cohesive online and onsite experience. These guidelines will then be laid out and utilized through an internship I participated in at a branch of the Archaeology Outreach & Consultancy Archaeology Group located in Edinburgh, Scotland. The project at this internship involved writing online museum-based text about archaeological sites in Caithness, Scotland, the most Northerly land-locked area of the country steeped in Scottish and Viking history. A set of labels written for one of these sites will showcase the writing technique and processes discussed in the paper.
Museum Studies (BS)
Department, Program, or Center
Department of Performing Arts and Visual Culture (CLA)
Strachan, Heather, "Developing Effective Museum Text: A Case Study from Caithness, Scotland" (2017). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
RIT – Main Campus