A screenshot from 'Wavechasers and the Samoan Passage' video abstract
Video abstracts are a great way to explain your work to the public and researchers outside of your field. To paraphrase, they’re like value propositions on steroids.
These 3-5 minute videos allow you to sum up what you’ve accomplished and documented in a journal article and, crucially, why it’s important to the world. You can use video abstracts illustrate concepts and experiments explained in your article, to “introduce viewers to the equipment and tools you have used in your research and engage with your audience in a more informal manner,” explains IOP Press.
An increasing number of publishers are adopting video abstracts as a great way to market research articles, and in less than an hour you can create one of your own.
In today’s challenge, we’ll walk you through the basics of creating a video abstract for a journal article: how to write a script, record the video using common equipment, and share your video to get maximum visibility for your research.
Step 1. Learn what makes a good video abstract
Here are some award-winning and highly-ranked video abstracts:
GBV 5-Minute Science Fair [Public Health & the Pandemic of Violence Against Women]: a straightforward video of a researcher describing her study of domestic violence among Latino immigrant communities in Washington DC. It has good production value–well-lit, easy to hear, plus some custom titles and credits added on to the beginning and ending–but is simple enough in concept that anyone could pull it off.
Dangling-bond charge qubit on a silicon surface: in just under five minutes, this video abstract sets a stage for what qubits are and why this particular study advances our knowledge of qubits. The researchers reuse computer-generated graphics and figures from their paper to illustrate the concepts they explain in the video, to great effect.
The Bacterial Effector VopL Organizes Actin into Filament-like Structures: this video features three researchers describing their paper with the aid of paper and pen, protein models, and some sweet action shots in the lab. It’s a highly technical explanation that can be a bit dry at points, but still manages to explain the study in a manner that non-specialists like me can understand. It’s successful even without the cool footage from the rainforest that the next video boasts, because the authors explain things well and go out of their way to illustrate concepts for the viewer.
Wavechasers & the Samoan Passage: an action packed video abstract that seems more like a movie trailer than an explanation of geophysics. (“The Wavechasers team travels to Samoa (experiencing Samoan culture and hospitality while there) to measure an undersea river 5 km beneath the sea surface.”) Setting aside the insane production value of the piece, what really drives this video abstract is the story behind the research.
So, what makes these video abstracts good?
The best video abstracts tend to answer at least two of the questions below:
- What does your article cover?
- What are the implications for future research on this topic or where would you like to see the field go?
- How can an instructor use your article in their teaching?
Viewers need to know how your research is relevant to their lives, their universe, or the advancement of knowledge in your field.
But you can’t just say anything in your video abstract. Aim to keep your video simple and short, refrain from using jargon, and–if possible–tell a story that’ll hook your viewers within the first 30 seconds and keep them watching until the end.
With these principles in mind, let’s get started!
Step 2. Gather your equipment
The basic equipment you’ll need is readily available to many researchers
A computer, webcam, and microphone: Many newer model laptops now come with webcams and microphones built-in. If you don’t have one, try a grad student in your lab or borrow one from a colleague. You can also use a desktop computer with a standalone webcam and microphone, if need be. And if you plan to do a simple video abstract (like the GBV point-and-shoot video featured above), a smartphone that can record video will do in a pinch.
Video recording software: If you’ve got a late model Macbook, the pre-installed Quicktime Player software can be used to create a simple screencast and iMovie can be used to edit any videos you create. Otherwise, check out Lifehacker’s list of best screencasting software for the top Windows and Mac options.
Something interesting to say about your research: Video abstracts are only as good as the stories they tell. No amount of production value can make up for a dispassionate explanation or lack of relatability to the viewer’s own life. In the next step, we’ll share some research-backed tips on how to communicate your results, but at the very least, you’ll need the kernels of the story from which we’ll make this video abstract bloom.
Once you’ve got all that together, it’s time to choose a format and write your script.
Step 3. Choose your format
Do you want to do a point-and-shoot video that’s simply 2 minutes of you describing your paper and why it rocks?
Would you prefer to structure your video abstract like a lightning-talk screencast, with you explaining slides and videos that illustrate your points from off-camera?
Or maybe you’ve got an amazing story to go along with your study, and some buddies in your university’s press office that have a lot of time and money to help you make a splash with a killer movie trailer-style video?
The format of the video you’ll create will likely be dependent upon what equipment and technical expertise you have on hand. And your script will be dependent upon your video’s format.
So, catalogue what you’ve got available and decide upon a format. Because we’re getting to the good stuff next: your video’s script.
Step 4. Write the script
You’ll use your script to narrate the story of your video. It doesn’t have to be written out, word-for-word; if you’re comfortable ad libbing, a simple outline will do. But you’ll still need to plan ahead on what you’re going to say, to some degree.
Create an outline
Your outline should follow a basic structure.
A problem statement
What question was unanswered before you began your research, and how did that affect the viewer’s life or the advancement of knowledge in your field? (“We knew that prostate cancer affected residents of three New York counties at a rate double that of the rest of the state, but no one knew why.”)
A one-sentence explanation of how your research solves that problem
Using as simple language as possible, describe the results of your study and what bearing it might have on a solution to the problem statement. (“After a 30-year study of New York residents and countless environmental tests on both humans and lab animals, we discovered that contaminated groundwater was likely the culprit.”) Both this explanation and the problem statement should fit into the first 30 seconds of your video.
An in-depth explanation of your study and results
Here you can dive into detail, setting up the story of how you conducted your study–the types of experiments you ran or data you collected and analyzed–and the specifics of the results you found and what they might mean. Remember to refrain from using jargon unless absolutely necessary, and explain any jargon you do use.
Reiterate what the problem is, how you solved it, and why the world’s a better place now
In the final few seconds of the video, you’ll remind the viewer of the problem your study has solved, and bring it back home to explain what bearing that has on their life. (“Now that we know that groundwater contamination resulting from the fracking methods used by most drillers does indeed cause cancer, we may be able to convince politicians to ban these methods in the future, so no one else is affected.”)
Invite the viewer to become a reader
If the viewer’s made it this far into the video, they’re likely hooked on what you’ve said and want to know more. Use this opportunity to point them to your journal article or preprint where they can read the full study.
Build your outline into an engaging script
Once you’ve got a solid outline, you’ll need to decide if writing a full script will be useful for the video.
If you’ve decided to do a point-and-shoot video, an outline of your talk is probably your best bet. It will keep you on your main talking points, while avoiding sounding stiff or over-rehearsed.
Doing a lightning-talk screencast instead? Use your outline to create a slide deck, and then write out what you’re going to say, word for word, so you can read it while doing the screencast.
For a movie trailer abstract, you’ll definitely want a full script, and you’ll probably want to develop it with the help of experienced A/V professionals in your university’s press office.
If you decide to write a full script, keep in mind that 120-150 words roughly translate into a minute of video. You’ll want to keep your video to 3-5 minutes, so plan to write a script that’s 750 words or less.
Need some inspiration? A great example script can be found on TheScientistVideographer.com.
Step 4. Record your video abstract!
CC-BY 2.0 Dave Dugdale
If you’re recording your video abstract for sharing on a publisher’s website, you’ll need to record your video according to their guidelines. Be sure to double-check their limits on the video’s length, quality, and how and where it’s shared.
If you’re creating a point-and-shoot video or a movie trailer-style abstract, pay close attention to the quality of sound and lights. Videos that are difficult to watch won’t get many viewers. The University Affairs blog recommends using “a lapel microphone, ideally, or else a very quiet room. Ensure that lights are facing the speaker and avoid backlighting, which happens when you situate the interview subject against a window.”
And if you’re creating a lightning-talk screencast video, consider paying a professional voiceover artist to narrate it. They can be easily hired on Fiverr for around $5/minute of voiceover, and often have the experience and audio equipment that’ll make your video sound professionally produced.
If you’d rather do the voiceover yourself, keep Videobrewery’s advice in mind:
Keep dialogue to between 125 and 150 words a minute. And while you might be able to speak 200 or more words per minute on your own, keep in mind that the voiceover needs time to breathe, allowing viewers to absorb what you’re saying (this is especially true if the content is particularly dense or technical in nature). Machine gun fire dialogue quickly overwhelms viewers, causing abandonment and decreased comprehension.
Once your video has been recorded, you can choose to edit it with your video editing software. This is a good opportunity to remove your tangents and flubbed lines, but it might require you to learn a new skill. Sometimes, it’s just easier to record a second take, instead.
One final option that’ll make your video stand out: add intro and outro music that’s licensed for reuse, which can be hunted down on the Internet Archive for free or purchased cheaply from AudioJungle.
When you’ve finished recording, buy yourself a drink! You’ve just accomplished a pretty big feat: video-enhanced public outreach.
Now let’s get your video to the public!
Step 5. Upload the video
Where to share it
Two popular platforms for video sharing are YouTube and Vimeo. Both can be used to track views and likes for your video, and allow you to copy-and-paste simple codes to embed your video in other websites. Neither offer long-term preservation, so you might consider backing up your video abstract on Figshare or a similar service.
YouTube is free and easy to use, but it has its drawbacks: they reserve the right to place ads on and alongside your videos.
Vimeo is also fairly easy to use and offers a well-designed, ad-free viewing interface. Its main drawback is that you have to pay for video uploads greater than 500 MB in size. You can disable comments and allow viewers to download your video, if you wish.
What to include
When you upload your video, be sure to include a descriptive title (one that matches your article is ideal), a 2-3 sentence description of your video abstract’s content, and a full citation to your paper (including a link to a freely-accessible copy of its fulltext, if it’s been published in a toll-access journal).
Step 6. Promote your awesome new video abstract
Now that your video is online, let’s get it some viewers!
Some good places to share your video on the Web include:
- On the article homepage: if the journal allows it, embed your video next to the written abstract for your paper. That way, potential readers get a more engaging glimpse of what your paper’s about, beyond what appears in the written abstract.
- Your website: embed your video on your website’s homepage, or on the Publications or Research pages.
- Your blog: share the video along with a link to your publication and a transcript of your video, adapted into a blogpost.
- Twitter and Facebook: these social media platforms were practically made for sharing video with the public. Share a link with your next update and both platforms will automagically embed it for your followers and friends.
- We Share Science: this video aggregator allows you to share your science video abstract with other scientists and students. You can also follow other authors and video creators on the site to stay on top of the best video abstracts–useful for discovering what works well so you can borrow it to use in your own videos!
Choose an article you’ve written and create a video abstract for it. And once you’ve created it, share it on at least one of the platforms or websites we mention above.
Tomorrow, we’ll explore how you can turn peer reviews into an opportunity serve your discipline and build your brand as an expert in your field.