Who Should Make Videos for the Scientist?

In the video embedded below, I continue my conversation with Eric Brennan, a researcher with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, who recently published a paper in Frontiers in Communication called “Why Should Scientists Be On YouTube? It’s All About Bamboo, Oil, and Ice Cream“.

That paper inspired us to join forces and initiate a video series to answer questions that science professionals may have about making videos. Each video focuses on a different question. In this one, we discuss who should make videos for scientists.

In case you missed it, here is the first video in the series: Why Should Scientists Use Video as a Communication Tool?

Why Should Scientists Be on YouTube?

Eric Brennan, a researcher with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, recently published a paper in Frontiers in Communication called “Why Should Scientists Be On YouTube? It’s All About Bamboo, Oil, and Ice Cream“. Eric and I began corresponding about eight years ago, sharing our experiences making videos and encouraging other scientists to use video to communicate their work. When I saw his paper, I contacted him and suggested we collaborate on a video project.

We’ve decided to initiate a joint video series to answer questions that science professionals may have about making videos. Each video will focus on a different question. This is the first video in the series and focuses on the question of why scientists should be using video as a communication tool. Future videos will address other questions listed in Eric’s paper (Table 1).

How to Make Your Science Videos More Appealing to Viewers

Viewers quickly become bored with science videos that present only facts and figures. What holds their attention are stories about the scientists or their subjects. In this video, I talk about how to make your science video more appealing to viewers and describe 12 ways to do this. By including human-interest angles, your video will appeal to a wider audience and put a human face on the science story.

Using Transitions in ScreenFlow 9

During film editing, video transitions are used between clips to smooth the jump from one clip to the next. Transitions are particularly useful when you need to cut out a mistake made when filming a person speaking to the camera. In this video tutorial, I show how to use transitions in ScreenFlow 9 and go through a few examples such as:

  1. transitioning between mismatching segments of a speech.
  2. avoiding dropped audio during a transition.
  3. fading out a picture-in-picture window (showing your image) in a PowerPoint recording.

Here is the tutorial:

The Pixar Storytelling Formula

Pixar films tell great stories. Toy Story. Finding Nemo. WALL-E. Up. These and other films have together grossed $ billions and won many awards. For example, WALL-E, one of my favorites, earned $533 million at the box office and several awards, including an Academy Award for best animated feature. How do they do it? Pixar story artist, Emma Coats, says that every Pixar film follows the same narrative formula, which involves six sentences (#4 in a list of 22 storytelling tips). Pixar’s formula seems to be derived from one developed by Kenn Adams, teacher and author, who posted his version (with eight steps) on his blog, Back to the Story Spine.

This is how it works. Each sentence begins with a few words followed by a blank space to be filled in by the storyteller. You can use six steps or eight:

  1. Once upon a time, there was …
  2. Every day …
  3. One day …
  4. Because of that …
  5. Because of that …
  6. Because of that …
  7. Until finally …
  8. Ever since then …

Those of us in science wishing to be better communicators, especially with video, can adapt this narrative formula to tell our science stories.

For example, we might want to tell a story about a research project to show students how scientists work. Here’s one story designed with the eight-step formula:

  1. Once upon a time, there was … a scientist who was interested in how coastal forests called mangroves managed to avoid submergence by rising sea level.
  2. Every day … the scientist read journal articles that said mangrove forests keep pace with sea-level rise mainly by accumulating mineral sediment carried by rivers, tides, and currents.
  3. One day … the scientist collected cores from beneath several mangrove forests in the Caribbean Region and found mostly organic deposits called peat.
  4. Because of that … the scientist wondered if plant matter (dead leaves and roots) might build up enough to help some mangrove forests adjust to changing sea level.
  5. Because of that … the scientist, along with colleagues, conducted a 3-year experiment on a mangrove island in Belize to see if a change in production of plant matter could alter vertical movement of the soil surface.
  6. Because of that … the scientist showed that production and accumulation of mangrove roots were mainly responsible for upward expansion of the soil surface.
  7. Until finally … the scientist was able to report that Caribbean mangroves adjust to rising sea level through biological controls on change in soil elevation.
  8. Ever since then … scientists have had a better understanding of how loss of mangroves may affect vulnerability of tropical coastlines to sea-level rise.

That’s the story of how one of my research projects came about and how it turned out. I published that paper in 2007:

McKee, K.L., D.R. Cahoon, and I.C. Feller. 2007. Caribbean mangroves adjust to rising sea level through biotic controls on change in soil elevation. Global Ecology and Biogeography 16: 545-556.

My formula-guided story illustrates how scientists make observations that lead to new hypotheses, experiments, and a more refined understanding of an ecosystem—suitable for an audience of science students. But I could have told other stories—for example, the challenges I experienced conducting research in a remote, waterlogged, bug-ridden habitat.

The Pixar formula is similar to an older storyline called “The Hero’s Journey”, which I’ve described before. The nine-step Hero’s Journey features a protagonist who encounters a catalytic event, which propels her to take action and to eventually achieve a goal. The Pixar formula is a bit more generic and has several steps, but also involves a conflict and a resolution. Even briefer is the ABT (and, but, therefore) model promoted by Randy Olson.

Take your pick. All of these narrative formulas can aid scientists in telling stories that people can understand and remember. If you want to make a video about a science topic but are having difficulty coming up with a story, give one of these formulas a try.