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VIDEO TECHNIQUES FOR
EFFECTIVE SCIENCE COMMUNICATION

Introduction & Overview

This is the first part of a short guide for researchers on simple and effective techniques for making compelling science communication videos. It’s based on a two and a half day workshop organized through the ASU Risk Innovation Lab, and is provided under a CC-BY-NC Creative Commons License. Written and produced by Andrew Maynard

The guide provides step-by-step instructions for producing sketch-style (whiteboard) videos, using a smartphone and basic editing software. It’s broken down into 8 sections:

  1. INTRODUCTION & OVERVIEW
  2. FOCUS
  3. SCRIPT
  4. STORYBOARDING
  5. VOICEOVER
  6. FILMING
  7. EDITING
  8. FINISHING TOUCHES

INTRODUCTION

It’s perhaps more important than ever these days to make scientific knowledge and insights accessible to a broad audience. And with web platforms like YouTube and smartphones with built-in video and audio (and in some cases video editing) capabilities, it’s never been easier for researchers to do this, and do it effectively.

The good news here is that there’s a growing group of people — casual learners — who are actively seeking out science-based information online; especially on YouTube. These are people who have had their curiosity or interest piqued, and are looking for specific information — often on how things work or why things happen.

YouTube is one of the most widely used online platforms around. It’s where people go to be entertained, to satisfy their curiosity, and to learn how to do stuff. Video — and YouTube in particular — is increasingly becoming the primary way for younger people to get information.

While the numbers aren’t robust, something over a billion people use YouTube — over 180 million in the US. It’s been estimated that, each year, people watch over 46,000 years worth of content, and that, each minute, 300 hours of video are uploaded.

While researchers and universities have been exceptionally poor at tapping into this platform, others haven’t. ASAP Science for instance has over 6 million viewers, and over 700 million views. And Minute Physics — one of the first sketch-video science channels — has over 3.7 million subscribers and over 300 million views.

These figures are exceptional, and few researchers will ever have this level of success. But it’s still possible to reach thousands, or even ten thousands of people, using short, engaging videos. For instance, this short video on nanotechnology on the YouTube channel Risk Bites got over 30,000 views in nine months.

This video uses a sketch-based approach that works because it’s so simple — it also works because the drawing is speeded up so no-one notices how bad it is. Videos like this appeal to people looking for interesting science content because they are short, engaging, understandable, entertaining, and above all, authentic.

Here, being authentic — coming across as a real scientists with something interesting, worthwhile, credible and trustworthy to say, and not as a PR person or someone trying to persuade or convert you — is extremely important. People will watch amateur videos because they are authentic, and avoid polished videos because they are not. But there are still a number of guidelines and skills here that can substantially increase the success of science videos. As well as being authentic, these include:

  • Being specific and focused;
  • Having an engaging story and style;
  • Keeping it short;
  • Keeping it simple;
  • Having great audio; and
  • Working within your limitations

This series of resources is designed to get you to the point where you can do all of this, and create 2-3 minute long videos that people want to watch!

OVERVIEW

These resources are designed to take you through the process of creating a simple, 2-3 minute sketch-video of a very specific aspect of the science you know or the research you do. You’ll be taken through a seven-step process of creating videos with smartphones that will lead to a finished (or maybe close-to-finished) video by the end of workshop, and provide a skill set and set of resources to help you produce many more effective science videos.

We will be using a very similar technique to that used on the Risk Bites YouTube channel. This uses very simple stick figure-drawing techniques to create engaging and informative videos, that pretty much anyone can make.

The resources cover two techniques — whiteboard sketches, and pencil and paper sketches. The basic approach is the same in both cases, although some of the techniques differ slightly. As an example video, we’ll be using the video How do Air Filters Remove Particles from the Air, which is available in two versions (pencil and whiteboard) on the Science Showcase YouTube channel.

Through the resources, we’ll be going through the following steps:

  • Focus: Identifying the aim of the video, and narrowing this down to something that can be conveyed effectively in 2-3 minutes.
  • Scripting: Crafting, editing and refining a tight, compelling ~300-400 word script that conveys clear, uncluttered, engaging and relevant information and insights.
  • Storyboarding: Sketching out a sequence of video frames that will guide filming.
  • Voiceover: Recording a clear and engaging narrative track for the video, using an iPod/smartphone.
  • Filming: Using an iPod/smartphone and either pencil and paper or whiteboard techniques to film sketches for the video.
  • Editing: Pulling together the narrative track and the video clips into a rough cut video, using basic PC/Mac based editing software
  • Finishing Touches: Adding title slides and a sound track to the video, and completing it.
  • By the end of these resources, you should have a video that, with some final touches, will be useable to share with others. You’re invited to submit your final video to Science Showcase to showcase it and make it available to a larger audience. We can’t promise that every video makes it as we have a strict set of criteria we use (which are also useful guides for effective science video making – see below). But even if you don’t make it, you should be well on the way to creating videos that will make the cut!.

Criteria for videos accepted for showcasing on Science Showcase

(More details here)

Tell a tight story. Make sure your video has a clear focus and narrative structure. Picking a very specific and narrow topic — something people might be curious about — works best. Don’t try and cover too much ground! Keep it short. We’re looking for videos between 2-3 minutes maximum — longer videos aren’t likely to be considered.

Be authentic. We’re looking for awesome videos that engage and inform viewers. And you can achieve this without a full-on professional production. Make sure the quality of the video is as high as possible, but authenticity is really important. Some of the simplest techniques like using pen and paper, or a whiteboard (or even a blackboard!), can be some of the most effective!

Be creative. You may not succeed first time, but don’t be afraid to try new ideas.

Be accurate. We won’t post videos that are inaccurate, or misleading, or push a strong opinion without evidence. Sorry.

Be legal. Make sure you have permission to use all the material in your video.

Be awesome. We’re looking for videos people will want to watch and tell their friends about. This means they should be engaging, informative, and worth someone’s time to watch!

Next: Focus …