Constructive criticism helps us improve our individual communication products as well as our overall communication skills. If you plan to publish your video, either on a video-sharing site or as online supplementary material with a journal article, it’s a good idea to first get some feedback from potential viewers.
Many of my science videos have gone through a formal peer review process, which involved comments from at least two colleagues, followed by review and approval by officials at several levels in my agency. You don’t have to go to this extreme, and, in any case, there are few mechanisms currently in existence that offer peer review of videos comparable to that of scientific journals. And, not all videos require peer review. You certainly don’t need a formal, collegial review of a video tour of your laboratory facilities to put on your website. However, you do want to know if your tour video is likely to attract prospective students and postdocs, for example. In that case, you might want to show it to a few students and ask them what they think. If their response is not what you expected, then you’ve gotten some useful feedback and perhaps need to rethink your video.
Similarly, if your video is to be submitted to an online journal, it would be wise to show it to a couple of colleagues first. Or, if your target audience is the general public or some other non-specialist group, you might want to ask members of that group to preview your video before you publish it. Your goal is to determine if the content is understandable and interesting to your target audience. You (and your colleagues) probably are not the best judges of whether your video is engaging and whether the content is presented in a way that is easily understood by a non-specialist. The only way to determine this is to solicit feedback from your target audience.
If after viewing your video, a target viewer expresses confusion over a key concept, then you know you’ve still got some work to do. Or, your student reviewer might say, “I really liked the part with the students collecting samples; I wish there had been more of that instead of the scientist talking about the carbon cycle.” Again, this would be very good feedback. In response, you might want to change your video by intercutting more footage of students working while the scientist’s voice is heard explaining how what they are doing relates to the carbon cycle. That would be an easy editing job, and the change will likely make your video more appealing to its target audience.
However, I find that some of my colleagues are uncertain about how to review a science video and, consequently, fail to provide useful feedback. They either try to review it like a journal article or want me to change it to something that will not appeal to my target audience (usually by adding citations or data). Because this is such a new area, there is virtually no guidance available to aid reviews of science videos. To help potential reviewers out, I’ve compiled a list of questions to help guide the review of a science video.
Here are twenty questions designed to provide useful feedback (and perhaps stimulate other comments) for your science videos:
1. Are all visual media (e.g., video footage, photographs, animations) of high quality (i.e., in focus, well-composed)?
2. Is the audio clear throughout and not obscured by extraneous noises?
3. Is all text legible and easily read within the timeframe provided?
4. Are all graphs, diagrams, or other illustrations of good resolution (not pixelated) and clearly labeled?
5. Are interviews (with scientists, students, others) professionally done?
6. If music or sound effects are used, are they appropriate and effective?
7. Are there any additional media that might improve the video?
8. Are sources of all external media (e.g, historical footage/images, music) clearly acknowledged?
9. Are proper safety procedures followed throughout the video (e.g., are laboratory personnel wearing lab coats and appropriate footwear, safety glasses, etc.)?
10. Does the video address an important issue or interesting topic or provide useful instruction?
11. Does the title of the video accurately reflect the content?
12. Is the scientific content accurate and appropriately attributed?
13. Is the length of the video appropriate? If not, where might it be cut or expanded?
14. Does the video clearly identify a central question, objective, or concept?
15. Does the video capture the viewer’s attention early and hold it throughout?
16. Does the video have a clear storyline or logical path that is easy for the viewer to follow?
17. Will the video be understood by the target audience? If not, which parts need to be revised?
18. If for a non-specialist audience, is scientific jargon minimized and are all essential technical terms defined or explained?
19. Does the video achieve its stated or implied purpose (inform, instruct, engage)?
20. Do you have any other suggestions for improvement?