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What Makes Video So Effective at Communicating Science

Photo of Eric standing in front of camera at the seed vault
Filming inside the National Laboratory for Genetic Resource Preservation at Colorado State University for the Seed Diversity Series.

Editor's Note Draft

Greetings subscribers, and welcome back to Reel Talk: Science & Film. Our newsletter continued to grow from our second issue, and we’d like to thank you for tuning back in for our third issue.

A few weeks ago, we attended the first-anniversary event for the CSU SPUR campus in Denver. It was a fun time for us as we got to chat with some CSU folk from both the Fort Collins campus and SPUR, as well as participate in some of their in-house activities like taste-testing sweets and some science-based games.

We also reconnected with a colleague from our work on the Hold Our Ground documentary film series on soil health in Colorado. It was a great day, and if you haven’t been to the SPUR campus yet, we highly recommend giving them a visit and checking it out sometime. 

In our first newsletter, we gave some examples of the types of videos that WUI produces to communicate science, but we didn't really go into the elements of what makes them so successful. For this month's newsletter, we wanted to take a closer look into why it works, who the viewer is, and how it can make a difference in sharing your science stories. 

So, without further ado, let's dive into our story to discover why video is so effective in science communication.

What Makes Video So Effective at Communicating Science?

Over the last few years, video has become an increasingly important part of communication strategies. From social media reels and stories, YouTube’s popularity, and TikTok’s emergence as one of the largest social media platforms, video has, in many ways, taken over our lives and is now so much more than movies, TV, and film. 

What does this mean for science communication? One realm in science communication that's seeing a surge in growth is the use of video to communicate science and education. According to Wiebke Finkler and Bienvenido León, (2019), video is the fastest-growing form of mass communication and provides the opportunity to connect various audiences to science. Pairing this insight with the latest online video consumption statistics, we see 92.3% of internet users worldwide watch digital videos each week, with 26% watching an educational video. This demonstrates how far-reaching video has become and the possibilities it presents to communicate science. 

Visual methods have been used to communicate science for years as research topics can sometimes be dense and complex to break down and make comprehensible to many people. Visuals such as graphics, infographics, pictures, illustrations, and more have been used to effectively describe and break down science and research. Video is a great visual method because it's able to combine all of these elements together to create a more powerful method of communication to make science more understandable. 

But how does video differ from other forms of visual science communication and make it stand out even more? Let’s break it down and take a closer look at some of those elements. 

Why is video a great choice to communicate science?

For starters, one thing that makes video great is the ability to edit its length to match the platform that hosts it. Need a shorter video for social media? Make it 30 seconds or a few minutes. Want to show it at a film festival? Make it a feature-length film. Video has the ability to be distilled down into a digestible size for a wide variety of audiences. 

Another great benefit to using video as a way to communicate science and research is that it can be produced to make the information easier to understand and comprehend. This is achieved through the subjects of the film and the script, as well as additional assets like graphics, text, diagrams, animations, etc. 

Because video is everywhere and in our face constantly on our mobile devices, computers, TVs, and more. Video has become a very approachable medium for receiving and absorbing information, even if it’s given in small doses like a reel or video story through a social media platform. 

Just like reading a well-written and highly detailed novel or story, video can create an immersive experience for its viewers and is done through careful planning, script writing, strong visuals, music score, and narration. 

Fraser et al. (2012) discuss that immersion into a film can allow audiences and learners to more easily understand scientific concepts, and offers benefits for learning by reducing cognitive load and increasing attention Yu et al. (2016). Furthermore, Jensen et al. (2022), talk about how literature suggests that the feeling of immersion could be an important factor in audience responses to cinematic scientific visualization.

Going back to the first part we mentioned, editing can open up many opportunities for the video to shine and find the right audience for its purpose. When in the early pre-production stages of producing the video, and even through post-production, deciding who your target audience or demographic is for the story you’re telling is incredibly important. It’s also a great strategic element that can make the video much more effective with engagement and immersion when the right people and stakeholders are watching. 

Who can benefit from science communication videos?

Whenever you are creating a video for science communication, it’s important to think about who the video is for and where you want it to go. If your intended audience is the general public, your video can pull back the curtain of the complexities of science and connect the viewers to the people behind the science and their personal stories. One of the great things about targeting a general audience to watch your film is that people connect and resonate very well with stories about other people. Angelone (2019), discusses the power film has when accompanied with science communication: 

“Films are powerful tools of scientific communication and can be used in a number of different contexts ranging from a documentary record of fieldwork and laboratory experiments, via multimedia exposure and public exposition, to science outreach aimed at bringing the general public into closer contact with scientific research (Pasquali (2006), (2007).”

Going beyond a general audience, your science video can be produced to target stakeholders who have invested interest in your research. In videos created with stakeholders in mind, you can take a more technical, educational, and inspirational approach. This is exactly what we did for the Hold Our Ground Series about soil health, as each part of the film was produced with a targeted audience of farmers and ranchers. The goal of this film series was to inspire them to take on soil health practices because of the exciting science that was showcased in each film and how adopting these practices can increase sustainability and profitability while decreasing input costs.

Lastly, another audience that science communication videos are great for is internal audiences for an organization, school or students, or any private group or entity. These types of videos can come in the form of training videos about how to utilize the latest research and technology, educational for learning, or any other use that the private audience can learn from. Training and educational videos save a ton of time for your staff or students and allow for consistency when implementing new techniques. With training and educational science communication videos, your team can be up to date with the latest science in an efficient manner.

How else can science communication videos be used?

Now that we’ve gone over some great reasons why video is good for communicating science and who it can be made for, we also wanted to talk a little bit about how video benefits those who are doing the science and research themselves. 

Traditionally, science has been communicated through extensive research papers that are peer-reviewed and published in a variety of print and online journals. While these are great and serve a very important role in the advancement of science and education, they can be hard to acquire and read, and they lack a connection to their audience outside of obtaining information and using it for their own research or paper. 

For example, organizational overview videos, such as the one we did with researchers at the ROSS Syndicate at Colorado State University, can connect viewers with the team of researchers and specialists of a lab, the stakeholders who are behind the grants, or those funding the research. These videos can be produced in a way so the topic and lab group can connect even further with their desired audience to make that human-to-human connection, while also allowing them to absorb and learn about their research and findings. 

Video can even be used as a tool to accompany your research paper. One method that’s gaining popularity is to create a video abstract. By creating an animated or filmed abstract, the researchers can spark interest in reading their paper by having it accompanied with an engaging and visually appealing introduction to the concept and reasoning of the research. 

Videos can also benefit those who are seeking funding or grants or looking to connect with stakeholders, government organizations, collaborators, and more. By creating a video product that highlights who you are and the work that you do, you might be able to make stronger connections with those who can support and fund your research. 

As we’ve gone a little deeper into the effectiveness of video and communicating science, we hope you have a better understanding of how it works and some of those who it benefits. In further issues of our newsletter, we might take a closer look at each of these elements, such as engagement, immersion, transportation theory, and more. 

Reel Wrap

This past month, we’ve been looking and planning ahead to the opportunities that a new year can bring us. We’ve discussed working on a film about local conservation issues, starting an ad campaign for our corporate video business, and looking into how to apply for and receive grants for future projects. 

We’ve also been busy working on a variety of projects, both for WUI Productions and for our own personal media projects. 

Eric has been plugging away at working on a short film that he and fellow Fort Collins filmmaker Zach Myers received the Voices With Impact production grant for a film about cliques and echo chambers. This narrative film has been a new challenge for Eric compared to his usual documentary work, with intensive set design and casting calls being major parts of this project. However, these challenges have been fun to tackle, and the film is really starting to come together.

Matt has been working on growing his wildlife photography business through increased social media presence, revamping his website, and working on opening a shop to sell some of his prints. It’s been a fun and challenging experience as printing is something that’s new to him, and he’s been learning a lot about editing images for specific paper types and printers. He’s hoping to have his print shop open within the next few months and will keep us updated on his progress. 

Thanks for tuning in again for this month's issue of Reel Talk: Science & Film and since it’s award season, stay tuned for next month’s issue, where we will take a lighter tone to talk about some of our favorite science communication films and how they influenced us as filmmakers.

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