How museums use tone of voice to reveal their hidden personalities

Anna Faherty
Original paper on MuseumNext >

What does your museum sound like? I’m not referring to the chatter of schoolchildren or the ambient hum of dehumidifiers. I mean what do the words you use in marketing, wayfinding and interpretation sound like? More usefully, who do these words sound like?

Every piece of written communication produced by a museum tells visitors something about who the organisation is and what it stands for. The words, punctuation and sentence structures museums employ – and the perspectives they take – have power. They may invite and engage; they more bore or even exclude.

Imagine someone visiting your museum for the first time. Do the external signs sound warm and welcoming? Does the entrance signage invite them in or put them off? Does the wayfinding include terms they understand? Does the interpretation appreciate their lived experience and value their point of view? Does it sound like words pumped out by a faceless institution or does it feel like it was written by a living, breathing individual, complete with personal experience, emotions and flaws?

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