Interpretive writing

Interpretive writing can be a challenge. How many interpretive signs are read from beginning to end?

Research shows that text-heavy and visually unattractive signs, will get passed by. In general, less is more when it comes to writing text.

How long will visitors engage with your message or story?

  • The Streaker – 3 seconds
  • The Stroller – 30 seconds
  • The Student – 3 minutes

Tell a story

Compelling stories connect with a visitor’s personal experiences. Help visitors understand the significance of ‘your place’, its environmental wonder, historical importance or cultural significance. Provoke them to learn and think about their experiences through beautifully woven, captivating stories.

Interpretive themes

An interpretive theme is like the heart of a story, guiding us through the wonders of nature, history, or culture. It’s the big idea that weaves together all the amazing facts and stories, helping us understand and connect to the world around us.

Interpreters use themes to cohesively develop ideas that say something important and powerful so they can provoke and assist personal connections — not merely transfer an idea.

What writing style?

In interpretive writing, there isn’t a specific prescribed style, as it can encompass a variety of approaches. Interpretive writing can include elements of narrative, descriptive, persuasive, or analytical styles, depending on the author’s intent and the nature of the topic.

Writers may employ storytelling techniques, vivid imagery, and personal reflections to convey their interpretations and engage the audience in a meaningful way.

Interpretive writing can also involve a deep subjective process, where individuals make inferences and ascribe meaning to texts and events to make sense of the world around them. This deeply personalised approach can contribute to the diverse styles found within interpretive writing.


Alan Lethbridge

Alan Lethbridge believes that interpretive writing is highly personal and reflective, requiring writers to delve deep into themselves to convey their unique perspectives.

By examining a text from different angles and making connections to their own experiences, writers can uncover deeper meanings and convey them to their readers in a compelling and insightful way.

Lethbridge also noted that interpretive writing needs to be engaging and accessible, with clear language and vivid descriptions that capture the readers’ attention and imagination.

John Veverka

John Veverka tells us that interpretive writing is like telling a meaningful story. He emphasised the power of connecting with the audience through emotions and imagination.

Veverka believed that interpretive writing should evoke curiosity and wonder, bringing the reader closer to nature, culture, and history. He stressed the importance of using clear and engaging language to create a compelling narrative that captures the audience’s attention and leaves a lasting impression.

Sam Ham

Sam Ham emphasises that interpretive writing is about inviting the audience on a journey of understanding. He stresses the importance of creating connections between the reader and the subject matter, using storytelling and vivid descriptions to transport them to new worlds of knowledge and meaning.

Ham encourages writers to tap into the emotions and intellect of their audience, igniting curiosity and fostering a deeper appreciation for the topics they explore.

Freeman Tilden

Freeman Tilden, a prominent figure in the field of interpretation, emphasised the importance of interpretive writing in engaging readers and providing them with meaningful insights. According to Tilden, interpretive writing should address the questions and interests of readers while offering wisdom with a sense of humility and care. By connecting with readers through clear, authoritative, and empathetic writing, interpreters can enhance the audience’s understanding and appreciation of the subject matter.

Furthermore, Tilden highlighted the significance of creating interpretive experiences that resonate with the audience, evoking emotions and sparking curiosity. He believed that interpretive writing should aim to establish a deeper connection between the readers and the topic at hand to foster a lasting impact.


  • Lethbridge, A. (2005). The role of interpretation during life changing experiences. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 51-62. doi: 10.1177/193758670500400204 ↩
  • Lethbridge, A. (2009). Insights into interpretive writing: An exploration of the necessary requirements for writing effective interpretive text. Journal of Interpretation Research, 14(2), 33-50.
  • U.S. National Park Service. “Foundations of Interpretation – U.S. National Park Service.”
  • Northeastern Professional Historians. “Reinterpreting Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage.”
  • U.S. National Park Service. “Meaningful Interpretation: Interpretive Themes – U.S. National Park Service.”
Interpretive signage tips
Aboriginal & indigenous projects