Tilden’s Tips

Tilden's Tips

Tildens Interpretation Principles

There has always been a lot of confusion over what makes something truly interpretive?

A great deal of so called interpretation really isn't interpretation at all. So what is the difference between that which is heritage interpretation, and that which is not? It is not what the message or program contains – the information – but how the information is presented. To help us “arrange” our interpretive presentation we look to the basics of principles interpretation and Tilden’s principles of interpretation:


"The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation."

Much of the interpretation we come across tends to be presented as sterile specification, a factual report or an academic a account of the subject matter. The role of interpretation is to provoke the audience to interact, to think and to react to the presentation. Good interpretation asks provocative questions.


"Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile."

This includes tangibles, intangibles as well as universal concepts. Talk to your visitors before a program and relate your program to them using information you may have gained from your conversation with them – their interests, knowledge of the sites history, habitat, culture, art, etc. Take people’s recreation interests and make them interpretive (e.g. interpretation by bike, having an “interpretive” fishing clinic or boating safety program.

Information or Interpretation

"Information does not equal interpretation, but all interpretation contains information."

Interpretation is an art

"Interpretation is an art which combines many arts regardless of subject material. Any art is to some degree teachable."

You might use acting, puppets, artwork, photos, props, storytelling or other artistic skills in developing your interpretive program or service.

Present the whole

"Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part."

A critical aspect of successful interpretive planning is the development of themes. In general, all interpretation should illustrate one main interpretive theme. These can be supported by program themes and sub-themes.

Interpretation for children

"Interpretation for children must be designed specifically for children, and not simply a dilution of programs and information for adults."

Interpretive programs for children need to have fun, hands-on, and edutainment with a clear theme or purpose in mind. Analogies and examples need to be geared for children as well.

Tilden's Tips

To make remembering Tilden’s principles easier we came up with Tilden's Tip's, a short hand version of the main principles.

Provoke: attention, curiosity and interest.

Relate: to the everyday life of your visitors.

Reveal: the main concept or theme through some creative or unusual viewpoint.

Address the Whole: make sure your program relates to your main Project THEME.

Message unity: use the correct supporting elements in your program to illustrate your theme or main concept.