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Writing for Rights

When my partner, Scott Sayre, worked at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (I’m sure they wouldn’t mind me telling this story) they were just gearing up to digitize the collection. Presenting digital images of the museum’s works of art meant that they had to request rights for many of them. A lawyer was consulted and he produced a letter for the museum to send out. The letter was filled with legalese and lawyerly language, and the staff knew that whoever received it would be both suspicious and overwhelmed. So they rewrote it, keeping the important legal requirements, but putting everything in language that was friendly and down-to-earth. And whenever they sent it out, his insightful assistant included a stick of gum. I’m not kidding.

The permissions that were returned to them were astounding. They had a huge success rate, and attributed it to rewriting the letter. The staff knew that a letter filled with legal terms was enough to put anyone off, and believed in the power of writing in plain language and a friendly tone. Goes to show you that the topic of writing in museums reaches into all corners of museum functions, and good writing can open doors to all kinds of opportunities. A stick of gum doesn’t hurt either.