Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management

Committee Chair/Advisor

Bixler, Robert D

Committee Member

Baldwin , Elizabeth D

Committee Member

Powell , Robert B


Interpretation seeks to help visitors to make intellectual and emotional connections between themselves and park resources through a communication process. To accomplish this goal, interpreters must be intimately knowledgeable of park resources as well as excellent communicators. The details of what types of knowledge and communication skills are most important to interpretive naturalists have not been formally documented. Likewise, little is formally known about the availability of each skill in pools of entry-level applicants for interpretive positions. This study documented the varying importance and availability of content and communication skills for entry-level interpretive naturalists, based on the perceptions of experienced interpreters. A web-based survey was sent to members of the Interpretive Naturalist subsection of the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) (n=867) as well as to several interpreters from special park districts who were encouraged to send it on to other interpreters they knew. Responses were received from 308 interpreters. The survey measured respondents' perceptions of the importance and availability of content and communication skills desired by organizations in entry-level interpreters. The five most important content skills were Field Ecology, Field Ornithology, Conservation Biology, Field Botany, and Field Mammalogy, while the five most important communication skills were improvisational skills, understanding how children of different ages learn, ability to read their audience, good voice, and ability to write lesson plans/program outlines. Grid analysis was used to display the importance and availability data. The only content skill that was located in the important but unavailable quadrant was Field Geology (rocks and minerals). Content skills that were viewed as being important and readily available included Conservation Biology, Field Botany, Field Dendrology, Field Ecology, Field Entomology, Field Herpetology, Field Mammalogy, Field Ornithology, and History. Content skills that were that were viewed as being unimportant consisted of Anthropology, Archaeology, Astronomy, European settlers' homestead and craft skills, Field geology (fossils), Field Ichthyology, Field Limnology, Field Marine Biology, Field Mycology, Field Oceanography, Folklore, Meteorology, and Native American skills.
Communication skills that were viewed as being important but unavailable were interpretive planning, interpretive writing, knowledge of state curriculum standards, storytelling, and understanding international visitors. Communication skills that were viewed as being important and readily available were ability to read their audience, ability to write lesson plans/program outlines, audio-visual equipment operation, conflict resolution skills, good voice, improvisational skills, understanding disabilities, understanding how children of different ages learn, understanding of ethnic and racial groups, and visual communications.
Communication skills that were viewed as being unimportant included costuming, exhibit construction, foreign language, graphical communication, interpretive theater, marketing, mechanical skills, music performance, music editing, supervisory skills, video editing, webpage design, woodworking skills, animal handling/husbandry, art, digital photo editing, outdoor skills, and photography.
In addition to determining the importance and availability of a variety of content and communication skills, this study also looked at how music was currently being used in interpretation. Frequently reported skills that were currently available were 'none of the above' followed by singing and playing an instrument. The most frequently selected category for musical skills desired by interpretive centers was playing instruments and singing. The most commonly reported musical activities used at centers were leading children in signing songs, having musical acts perform and playing musical recordings.
Study results can be used by universities in revising curricula and advising students interested in environmental interpretation. Persons interested in becoming entry-level employees may use these data in making decisions about preparing themselves to be competitive in the job market and by park staff in designing training for seasonal interpreters.



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