Cristy Burne

Blending STEM, literacy and creativity to enthuse, engage and empower

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Writing for museums: Meet the crown dragon


The finished product: the text panel for Guanlong – hooray!

Want to be paid to learn new things?

Be a science writer!

I recently worked as a writer on the Australian Museum’s TYRANNOSAURS – MEET THE FAMILY exhibition, now touring New Zealand.

Prior to this job, if you’d said “tyrannosaur”, I’d have screamed “Rex!” and started running. I knew they had teeth, I knew they had claws, I knew they were extinct.

And that was it.

Well, turns out, there’s a whole lot more to know about tyrannosaurs, and I was lucky enough to learn some of it on the job.

Making every word count

The process for writing museum panels is a long one.

– Each panel is short — some less than 100 words — but they each have to grab attention, communicate a message, and add value to the visitor’s experience.

– The TYRANNOSAURS panels had to work for kids and adults

– They also had to steer clear of any typically Aussie references: the exhibition is touring different countries, so it needed to work for audiences around the world.

–  Accuracy is most important of all. I worked with a paleontologist on the panels for this exhibition, to make sure everything was spot on. Every fact was triple-checked, every sentence was scoured for ambiguity.

Ten drafts, 200 words

The panel pictured above introduces a primitive tyrannosaur named Guanlong wucaii, meaning Crown Dragon. We’ve only found two Guanlong specimens, so not a lot is known about this dinosaur. It was my job to communicate the key facts in something super-interesting and engaging. What do you think?


Guanlong wucaii: the crown dragon

Guanlong is one of the oldest tyrannosaurs known: it hunted 95 million years before T. rex.

Height: 1.1 metres tall at the hips.                 

Length: 4 metres.

 Lived: 160 million years ago (Late Jurassic).

Discovered: By T. Yu in 2002, Xinjiang, China.

Meaning crown dragon, Guanlong was named for its flashy head-crest. Fragile, hollow and made from fused nasal bones, the crest may have been attractive to other Guanlong. Such a showpiece is unusual in a predator.

Shaking hands with Guanlong
Guanlong isn’t your typical tyrannosaur: it has long arms and three-fingered hands for grabbing and ripping. But the shape of its teeth, skull and pelvis all link it to the tyrannosaur group. Like many tyrannosaurs, it almost certainly had feathers.

Trapped in a footprint
The two known Guanlong died in the same way: they fell into the muddy footprint of a massive herbivore and were trapped. The 6-year-old died first and was probably trampled by the adult, who arrived later. Both skeletons are almost complete.

Likes: Elaborate headwear.

Dislikes: Being called primitive.


Artwork by dracontes



Tyrannosaurs: Meet my text panels – the Australian Museum tyrannosaurs exhibition


I’ve been working this year with the Australian Museum (and my kids) to write the text panels for their new TYRANNOSAURS: MEET THE FAMILY exhibition, and it’s about to open!

It’s going to be incredible, with some real surprises and unusual experiences in store for punters, plus, of course, it’s chockas with informative, witty, succinct and fascinating text panels 😉 (Ahem, now, where did I put my trumpet?)

But seriously. Go see it if you can. It’s really cool, and I learned a lot of things about dinosaurs along the way. Writing for the museum was a terrific experience and I was lucky to work with a great team of creative minds. MY FAVOURITE THING!

Tyrannosaurs, exclusive to the Australian Museum in Sydney, is the first exhibition in the world to shine a light on this legendary dinosaur family. If you thought you knew tyrannosaurs, think again.

Tyrannosaur eats kids

Me and the kids at Universal Studios in Singapore…The Australian Museum exhibition is going to be even tastier!

The Museum are flying in fossilised T-rex specimens from North America, and smaller feathery ancestors recently found in Northwestern China; there will also be life-sized skeletons and models, fossilised pre-digested stomach contents (if you’re into that sort of thing), and a machine that lets you gauge the bite-force of a T-rex (roughly 6 tonnes of pressure) against your own.

Date 23 Nov-27 Jul 2014

Open Daily 9.30am-5pm