It is important to keep in mind that an exhibit is not a book on the wall. Writing exhibition labels is a unique form of writing all its own, and like anything it takes practice.
Exhibit labels are a blend of exciting words, short sentences, and creative phrasing. You have to grab the visitor’s attention right away, and make them want to keep moving through the gallery. Very few people read every word on every label, so the object is to entice them to read as many words as you can.
Always remember that you are writing for a standing audience, with a limited attention span. They are not sitting at home in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea, turning the pages of a book. If they are not interested in what you have written, they will simply walk away.
So how do you keep them reading?
First of all, if you can say the same thing in 2 words or 10 words, you better say it in 2 words. Lengthy or wordy labels instantly discourage visitors from reading your work.
You need to strike a balance between “dumbing down” your writing and talking down to the reader. You can’t assume that everyone will already know what you were talking about, but you don’t want to state too many obvious facts either. You should use simple, concise words, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to the vocabulary of a 10 year old. In general, most exhibitions are written at a 10th grade level, similar to a newspaper.
Always have someone else read your exhibit labels, preferably someone in the education department who can help to gauge the reading level of your writing. It is important to distance yourself a bit from your writing, which will make it easier for you to digest constructive criticism. When I first started my career, I was emotionally attached to every word I wrote. Revision can only make your work better, no matter what kind of writing you do.
For more information on creating an exhibit, check out my ebook How to Create an Exhibit on a Shoestring Budget. Just click on the link below!