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How context and reader behaviour influence the style of online and museum texts

Posted 7/11/2015

By Deborah

Museum and online text have some similarities in style. This is largely because their contexts and readers share some common traits – they scan texts and they don’t read linearly.

Scanning texts

Both the online reader and the museum visitor do not 'read' in the traditional sense. They scan the text, pulling out the information they want – in less than 30 seconds according to some studies. Therefore, texts created for these purposes must have 'scanability' - they should use headings, short paragraphs, key words and information that gets to the point quickly. 

Scanability

Text works best when it is presented in a clear, scanable hierarchy. Many exhibits and online sites use three levels of information in their written texts:

  • First level text is the heading and the subtitle, which orient readers to the subject.
  • Second level text is an introductory paragraph. This provides basic information and presents an overview of the subject.
  • Third level text provides supplementary information. It often interprets a 'sub-concept' from the second level text. It caters for interested readers who may want additional information.

This method of text presentation also helps communicators to organise their thoughts and concepts.

Reading non-linearly

Museum and online texts must be seen as modular and ‘free form’ as many sites and exhibits have multiple entry points. Writers, then, shouldn’t rely heavily on readers having already read preceding texts. However, your site or exhibit's clear visual design can often lead the reader back to a more appropriate way in to your narrative.

So there you have it! Who knew these two genres would have so much in common!