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How to turn your research findings into a video that people actually want to watch

It seems that everyone is making videos about their research these days, but if you look at the number of views, not many of these films are actually getting their message across to large audiences. So how to you make a video about your research that people will actually want to watch?

If you want to turn your research findings into a video that people will actually want to watch, I think there are two crucial things you need to get right, which most researchers overlook:

  1. Come up with a powerful idea that can act as a vehicle for your research findings, for example, a real-life story or a striking, humorous or thought-provoking metaphor. Make your idea personal, unexpected, visually striking and visceral

  2. Have a strategy in place to drive traffic to your video. Just having a great video isn't enough - people have to know that it is there. For online video, social media is a powerful means of driving traffic, so make sure you have a social media strategy in place to make sure that you're harnessing its power to get your film noticed. Find out how to make a social media strategy for your video here.

If you have sufficient budget, hiring a professional film company to make a short video about your key findings can be a powerful and highly professional way to communicate messages to policy audiences, as well as to other key stakeholder groups. If you’re working on a much smaller budget and cannot afford to pay for a professional video to be made, you may be surprised at how effective it can be to create your own videos, with just a few tips to help make it come across effectively.

I've got no budget - can I make the film myself?

With the low cost of digital video equipment (and integration of video recorders of sufficient quality for online streaming on most mobile phones nowadays), combined with the ready availability of free and easy-to-use video-editing software (such as Windows Moviemaker or Apple's iMovie), producing your own video content is now within reach of even the most ardent technophobe. Some pointers to make the process easier:

  1. Plan thoroughly and write a script – this will ensure you get the shots you want and you don’t video more than you need, thus making editing much easier

  • Spend time thinking about your story, and tell it like a story with a clear beginning, middle and end

  • Think about how you can make that story personal in some way to the people who will watch your film, that will make them apply your research in some way to their own lives

  • Try and think of something that will take people by surprise - this is one of the elements of a video that is most likely to make someone share the film with their social network

  • Try and come up with some memorable visuals e.g. some sort of visual metaphor that sums up your research findings, a spectacular location or something entertaining that will help the key ideas stick in people’s heads

  • Think about how you might be able to engage with peoples emotions on some level (ideally positive rather than negative emotions)

  1. Turn your script into a “story board” - little sketches that convey what will happen visually for each section of your script

  2. Pay attention to the sound – if possible use an external microphone for interviews, or make sure the speaker is near enough to the camera’s built-in microphone, and watch out for background noise

  3. Always use a tripod for filming static shots and avoid zooming or moving the camera around unless it is absolutely necessary

  4. Make the editing software work for you – use titles, transitions and effects to convey meaning and make your video look more polished, but beware: over-using effects can be distracting and may look unprofessional

  5. Get clearance – getting signed consent forms from participants and using only copyright-cleared materials for things like images and soundtracks could save you massive potential headaches later on

  6. Make videos available in as many formats as you have time to create in order to improve accessibility (e.g. You Tube, Vimeo, podcast, embedded in your project website, links to download files in .mp4 and .wmv formats)

  7. The optimum length of a video on You Tube is said to be between 2-3 minutes - if you want to keep your audience to the end, try and keep your film within 5 minutes

  8. Keep viewer interest by making videos entertaining where possible, and using a variety of styles, e.g. expert interviews, site visits/tours, documentary, biographical, profiles etc.

  9. Attempt to make videos look as professional as possible, eg. by adding introductory and end titles/credits

  10. Promote your video – just putting a video online won’t necessarily get you any views. You need to integrate your video into your project's pathway to impact and think of ways to drive traffic to it. Just embedding it in your project website won’t help if you’re not getting much traffic to your website. It can be particularly useful to invest in social media to drive traffic to online videos

  11. Have a go! Learn by doing it and get constructive feedback from your colleagues, but don’t be too ambitious on your first attempt

How do I get the most out of a professional film-maker?

Most of the points above apply when commissioning video, except the professionals will take care of much of this for you. Here are a few key pointers that can help you get the most out of working with film-makers:

  • Although many film-makers will be able to help you refine your story, you will still need to provide them with the source material. Given that you understand your research best, you can often get much better results if you come to a film-maker with a few different ideas about how you might tell your story, that they can then work with, rather than just sending them your latest paper or policy brief and hoping that they’ll be able to come up with the story on their own

  • Think about who you’ll need to interview and what locations you’d like to film – every extra day of filming on location adds to your budget, so if you can get everyone in the same place on your key location, you may be able to get filming days down to a minimum and save on costs

  • Once you know what you want from the film, you can negotiate a price – there will be an element of give and take, and you may have to scale back your ambitions depending on your budget

  • Ask the film-maker if they can provide a cut-down “promotional” version of your film within the price or for a small additional fee – this can be an effective way of creating an additional version of your film that may be more relevant for a more generalist audience, to help expand who accesses your material

  • Make sure you check the draft version of your film carefully and provide detailed comments re: things that need to be changed. Take time at this point and consult with the rest of your team, rather than going back and forth with lots of edits, or colleagues objecting to content after the film is finished

  • Get copies of your film in a few different formats – lower resolution for putting online and higher resolution for showing on the big screen

So now its over to you - try these tips out and let us know how you get on! We'd love to help you promote your latest research video via this blog and our social media, so get in touch if these tips have helped you!


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