Are you talking to me?

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SPARK your Creativity: successful interpretive writing
August 20, 2017
Peeling back the layers
August 31, 2023

Tone of voice in interpretive writing

I’ve been reflecting on the often forgotten aspect of tone of voice in interpretive writing. It’s been prompted by some interpretation I saw recently at Warkworth Castle. Their new graphics include panels written in the first person. As you explore you discover five different peoples’ perspectives or stories about life in the castle.

Clearly first person content isn’t going to be suitable for every project, but it made me think about how often we can forget to consider who is telling the story. Sometimes our own voice is not the one that is needed to engage with the audience, and we need to think about taking on a persona to find the right tone and words to connect.

Who’s talking to who?

Once you’ve done your research it is tempting, often, to jump straight into script-writing.  And it’s fair to say most people will then just write in the way that is most familiar to them. Sentence structure and length, choice of words (including jargon often) all reflect where they are most comfortable. That doesn’t mean it suits the audience though.

I like to encourage participants on my interpretive writing online courses to take a step back first.  Make sure they are clear who they are writing for (who is your audience). Then decide on a tone of voice and test it out with some samples first.


Try for yourself

The way I get people to think about tone of voice is to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Who is telling the story? – describe the personality traits of your imagined narrator of the story.
  • What is their voice like? – write a few sentences in that voice, imagine you can hear them talking to you
  • What are they not like? – write a few sentences to show what you don’t want
  • Why? – what is your rationale for choosing this tone of voice? Think about your audience(s), their needs and motivations and what will engage them

Next time you are sitting down to write interpretation, give this exercise a go first.

(Right: One of several new sculptural installations at Warkworth Castle)


Why bother?

Tone of voice is part of establishing the relationship with your audience. It sets up expectations for them of your organisation and  of the experience they will have with you. It’s actually something that you should be considering throughout all your communications, from online to arrival, orientation to interpretation.

It has the power to turn visitors off, or to really turn them on to what you are sharing with them. It’s about making an emotional connection which is important to enable visitors to find their own meaning and relevance in what is being interpreted. I recommend having a look at this article on MuseumNext about the power of Tone of Voice.

(Left: The ‘Heritage Hounds’ – my dogs – admiring the installations)




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