The Partnership

What’s in a theme?

A theme is the central message of a piece of interpretation, which helps the meaning and relationships be revealed.

Interpretation is not the same as instruction. Neither is it the same as entertainment. Good interpretation needs to be not only enjoyable to experience, but relevant to the audience, well organized and above all it must have a theme. This theme is what gives interpretation its purpose, and raises it above fact giving or entertainment.

A theme is the message that will stay with us, after the facts have been forgotten, and the fun been had.

So how is this going to help you? Well if you use a theme, your interpretation will be more likely to work than if you don’t have one.

But don’t go thinking that any old theme will do. There are strong themes and weak themes. A good theme is successful in doing the things mentioned above, a bad theme less so. Think of a great film or play (which can be considered a form of interpretation) and it will likely have a strong theme.

Below are some examples of strong themes, weak themes, and topics for the estuary which illustrate this.

Topic Maritime history Natural history Earth Sciences
Poor Theme ‘There is a interesting maritime history to the estuary which has influenced it’s development’ ‘The Gwent Levels act as a important stop off point site for wildfowl and waders on migration’ ‘The Seven Estuary is a drowned valley type of estuary and prehistoric man would have seen it as a large marshy plain.’
Strong theme 'The way you live, work and travel around the estuary has been shaped by its long, exciting and sometimes tragic maritime history’ ‘An international service station for our winter visitors’ ’10,000 years ago you could stand on the hill where Flat Holm is now and survey a huge marshy plain’.

Here are some suggestions that can make your theme stronger-

Make them personal- use the word you, we, us etc.
Incoperate an analogy
Incoporate a metaphor
Use symbolism
Use an active voice

Links to more about themes- Scottish Natural Heritage Interpretation Guidance

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