Nubart's team


February 22, 2018

How to write a script for a museum audio guide?

Nubart's blog - how to create an audio guide for children

Some museums are faced with the task of writing an audio guide for the first time and don't know where to start. If you want to create a classic, non-linear museum audio guide that complements and deepens the information available in the room in several languages, the following tips may help you.

Some of the things to consider when writing the script for an audio guide are:

  • Make a list of the stations.
  • Write for listening, not for reading.
  • Consider writing contextualizing texts.
  • Consider recording sound bites from curators or artists.
  • Calculate the duration of the audio guide.

Choose the exhibits you want to appear in the audio guide.

Even if your museum is very small, it will not be possible (and certainly not desirable) to produce an audio guide with explanations of all the objects on display. Audio guides are expensive to produce, especially if they are to be in multiple languages, and your visitors may feel overwhelmed by too much content. We recommend that you start with the bare essentials. If necessary, you can always add new stations and languages to your audio guide later.

Before you start writing the script for the audio guide, you need to make a list of the exhibits you want to present in it. Your selection is also an indirect way of drawing your visitors' attention to the works you want to highlight. This decision is not easy, but there are some criteria that can help you:

  • It is an object of great historical or artistic value, i.e. a highlight of the museum that should not be missing from the audio guide.
  • It is an exhibit whose function or meaning would be difficult to understand without an explanation.
  • It is a piece that is not very significant artistically or historically, but has a story that makes it unforgettable.
  • It is a piece that attracts a lot of public attention regardless of its significance or value.

The number of objects on this list depends on a number of factors, such as the size of the museum and, of course, the budget and time available.

It is common for visitors to pay much more attention to the works at the beginning of the tour, when they are still full of energy and museum fatigue has not yet taken its toll. Scientific studies have shown that after thirty minutes, museum visitors lose their ability to concentrate and find it harder to stand in front of an object and listen to an explanation. So if you go overboard with the number of objects in the audio guide, you run the risk of oversaturating your audience in the first few rooms and overwhelming them in the last.

Thirty minutes of audio guide corresponds to about 15-20 stations.

Prepare a text to be listened to, not read.

Concentration when listening is very different from when reading. It is important to have the sound of your audioguide in your head when you are writing:

  • Reduce numerical data to the essentials. The size of a canvas in centimetres or inches may be appropriate information for a display next to an exhibit, but not for an audio guide script.
  • Read your text aloud before approving it. For example, if you write "Picasso (Malaga 1881 - Mougins 1973)...", it will become "Picasso, born in Malaga in 1881 and died in Mougins in 1973...".
  • Avoid complex sentences. Shorten or split sentences whenever possible. If a sentence is difficult for you to read, it will be three times more difficult for the visitor to hear and understand.
  • Avoid technical jargon or highly specialized vocabulary. The purpose of an audio guide is to convey the theme of your museum and make it accessible to all target groups. If you absolutely have to use a technical term, try to break it down. For example: Instead of "This trompe l'oeil shows us...", say "This picture is a so-called trompe l'oeil, a form of painting that simulates three-dimensionality. It shows us..."
  • Whenever possiblen, try to include an anecdote or a fun fact. This will help your visitors to concentrate and remember what you have written for them.
  • Address your audience. For example: "Did you notice the piece of brass sticking out of the door of this carriage? It was used for..." is better than "The piece of brass sticking out of the door of this carriage was used for...".

If necessary, supplement the explanation of each exhibit with an introductory audio track.

Audio guides do not have to be limited to explaining individual exhibits. Sometimes a little context is needed. For example, you can create introductory audio tracks to introduce the contents of a room, describe an era, or give a general overview of the artist whose work is on display. Introductory content that is not linked to a specific object usually requires the visitor's full concentration and attention. Limit yourself to the essentials and try to keep these supplementary texts particularly attractive and short.

Consider recording the voices of curators and artists.

This advice always applies, but is particularly useful for temporary exhibitions where time is of the essence and it's not always possible to spend weeks writing a script. Sound bites from the curator, artist or museum director are quick and easy to obtain and add an authenticity that your audience will appreciate.

In addition, the curators of an exhibition often do not get the public recognition they deserve. Many will welcome the opportunity to contribute their particular perspective to the design of the exhibition or the selection of a particular piece.

In order to offer original sounds in other languages, the text must be transcribed using one of the many software packages available on the market, then translated into the other language and set to music. To preserve the authenticity of the original voice and to make it clear to visitors that they are listening to a quotation, we recommend simulating the simultaneous translation with an overdubbing or a voice overlay.

Calculate the duration of the audio guide

Synthesising information is always a challenge, but an audio track that is too long can overwhelm visitors. What seems short at home can be very long when you are standing in a crowd.

Ideally, audio tracks for audio guides should be no longer than two minutes.

One minute of speaking time in English corresponds to about 130 words. We therefore recommend that you write a text of no more than 2650 words for each station.

No visitor will listen to all the tracks in your audio guide one after the other: One of the attractions of an audio guide - i.e. a self-guided tour - is that visitors can choose which exhibits they want to learn more about. However, when all the tracks are added up, the total time should not exceed the time it takes to visit an exhibition without an audio guide.

Your museum has probably already calculated the average time visitors spend: A good guide to the ideal length of an audio guide is to halve this time. So if your visitors normally spend an hour in your museum, your audio guide could last a total of 30 minutes.

You may also be interested in our article How do I develop an audio guide for children?