Video abstracts are the audiovisual version of traditional written abstracts. They help you explain your research to a broader audience, as viewers simply click the “play” button – no reading required (unless you have subtitles). Video abstracts have actually been around since the mid-2000s, but journals and publishers are increasingly using them as powerful tools of scientific communication.
Great, but I have absolutely no idea how to make a video!
Indeed, producing videos takes a different skillset and toolkit than writing articles, but it’s getting easier by the year. Even more, skilled production help is available if you have a bit of funding set aside. Outsourced or DIY, it’s valuable to learn what goes into a great video abstract.
In this article, we’ll let you in on key things to understand about producing video abstracts. This includes what they should include, journals that accept them, a critique of an actual video abstract, and a bunch of useful resources.
First, let’s take a deeper dive into what they are and where they came from...
What is a video abstract?
A video abstract is the audiovisual version of conventional abstracts. Video abstracts explain the why, the how, and the main findings of a study in a video typically no more than 5 minutes. You might think of them like the sneak previews at the movies.
However, unlike written research abstracts, video abstracts let you add in some of your personal views on your research. You can also explain complex concepts in a way that’s appealing to visual people (and easily distracted people). Video abstracts also try to encourage the audience to read the entire article to get all the details on your research.
When did video abstracts start?
Since 2007, the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) has published peer-reviewed, professionally videoed experimental procedures. These are given together with traditional full-text articles. JoVE can probably be considered the first example of video abstracts. They’re now available on YouTube.
Here’s an example:
Source: JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments) (2022, February 19). Metagenome and Metatranscriptome Sequencing.
It makes total sense that a written journal on visual processes used video. There’s no Hollywood magic in the videos – they’re factual and pragmatic.
A more accessible version of video abstracts started with the first video released in an open format on YouTube in 2009 by the journal Cell. It summarized an article about using animal models to study the evolution of human language. It’s only three and a half minutes long and uses plain language easily understandable by non-specialists.
Watch it here.
Source: Cell Press (2009, May 22). Probing the evolution of human language in a model organism.
This also is not elaborate, but it’s a nice edited video with a mix of science and commentary.
Journals and editors have continued to realize video abstracts are useful marketing tools to raise the visibility, impact, and citations of full-text articles. Indeed, a strong positive correlation has been found between the number of views of a video abstract and the number of reads of the corresponding article.
Advantages of presenting your research in video abstracts
These are some of the main advantages that video abstracts have over the traditional written abstracts and articles. These include:
- You can more effectively show and explain the main conclusions and highlights of your research.
- You can increase citations. According to one study, video abstracts have a positive impact on the number of citations of an article.
- By reaching a broader audience and having a visual documentary of your work, you might increase the chances of receiving funding. For that same reason, potential employers might also be impressed.
- You can describe 3D and dynamic phenomena without simplifying them to a 2D image, or a written description.
What contents should a video abstract include?
Although you don’t usually need to stick to a strict format for your video abstract, some elements are consistently used because they follow a logical order. The same logic applies to written abstracts: lay out the information in a predictable way so the reader (in this case, viewer) finds what they expect to find:
- Introduction: Describe the problems or questions you addressed. What was the gap in the literature? Why did it need filling?
- Methods and results: How did you tackle the research question? How did you get the data? Explain the methods you used to solve the problem and the results that you got out of them. It’s important that you illustrate this part with clear, representative images that a viewer can easily understand. They can be technical, too. You don’t have to “dumb it down.” Like a written abstract – it’s accessible, but it’s also highly accurate and true to the science.
- Conclusions and summary: Highlight the most important conclusions and summarize your work as a take-home message.
- Call for action: Encourage your viewer to download the full article and read it. Add a direct link to your article’s page on the journal’s website. Don’t make them search for it. Remember that a goal of video abstracts is to increase the readership, the impact of your research, and, hopefully, the number of times you’re cited. Getting other researchers to download your article is the first step to cite it (just like a sneak preview is designed to make you want to watch the whole movie).
How long should it be?
A video abstract’s length depends on the journal’s guidelines. For most journals, it’s less than 5 minutes. For example, Taylor & Francis recommends up to 2:20, the American Academy of Pediatrics and British Medical Journal (BMJ) set a maximum of 4 minutes, Cell suggests a maximum of 5 minutes and the New Journal of Physics recommends 3–4 minutes long.
In sum, they’re short, but there’s variety. And this underscores how video abstracts are still evolving as a medium. A written abstract is around 250 words most of the time, with or without subheadings and in the same order. A video abstract has more leeway.
When and where do you use a video abstract?
Video abstracts are relatively common in the STEM fields. Within that, there’s no specific trend in specific fields. It depends on the journal and publisher. The format is less common in the social sciences or humanities. Perhaps that owes to the more theoretical and less visual nature of HSS studies, or to the critical need to anonymize personal data.
That said, studies in areas like industrial psychology and architecture would seem a great fit for a video abstract. See what’s available and factor it into your journal decision.
Academic journals publish video abstracts either directly on their websites or on general platforms, mainly YouTube. Following are just some of the increasing number of journals accepting video abstracts, and publishing them on YouTube, their own websites, or both:
- Biotechnology & Bioengineering
- Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology
- Clinical Ophthalmology
- Current Biology
- Developmental Cell
- Drug Design, Development and Therapy
- Environment Science and Technology
- European Journal of Neuroscience
- International Journal of Nanomedicine
- International Journal of Women’s Health
- Journal of Number Theory
- Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment
- New Journal of Physics
- Patient Preference and Adherence
How to make a video abstract
As mentioned, there are many styles to follow, and video abstracts are evolving.
Despite their changing nature, there are some common aspects that can turn your video abstract into something more engaging and effective:
- Keep it short and, generally, don’t exceed 5 minutes. Attention spans drift off if it’s longer.
- Keep it clear and natural, as if you’re explaining your work to your colleague in the lab next to yours.
- Use accessible vocabulary and limit highly specific jargon.
- Pay attention to the video quality, but don’t forget about the audio. Avoid any background noise that may distract your viewer. You don’t need a professional mic setup for this. You can use a clip-on microphone or a good desk mic.
- An image is better than 1,000 words. You’re on video now, so use it. Complement what you say with pictures or clips of video (and make sure you have the rights to use the video).
- Minimize the number of complicated figures or amount of raw data. The viewer can get distracted trying to interpret them. You’ll hold their attention if you show images that are straightforward and readily understandable.
- Make sure any text can be read, especially if you show graphs or slides. Consider that not everyone will watch your video abstract on a huge PC screen. Think of those watching it on their phone.
Where to put yourself and your voice in a video abstract
With these general rules in mind, choose if you want to appear in the video. In the most traditional style, you (and/or your colleagues) talk in front of the camera. In this case, use visual supporting materials showing images, graphs, etc., as support. You can also choose not to be in front of the camera and, instead, show animations, a slides presentation, or video clips, while you narrate the content of the abstract.
If you’re not fond of watching yourself or hearing your voice, get someone else on the team to do it. Or hire a freelance narrator.
Writing a script will help you keep your focus, follow a structure, and not forget important information. But don’t read every word on a screen while you record the video. It won’t come across as natural. Apply the same rules you’d apply for an in-person presentation. And the great thing is, if you mess up, you can do it again until you get it right.
An example of a good video abstract
If you’re going to discuss termite mounds, what’s better: write about them at length or show them?
A visual phenomenon is made to be seen. But you’re a researcher, too, so you have to focus on the science. This particular research is not only in a very cool area, the researchers go to it, with a drone, to make their video abstract.
Credit: Cell Press (. Vast 4,000-Year-Old Spatial Pattern of Termite Mounds/Curr. Biol., Nov. 19, 2018 (Vol. 28, Issue 22)
In fact, it’s the most viewed video on Cell Press’s YouTube channel. In less than 3 minutes, the author describes the research on the patterns followed by up to 4,000-year-old termite mounds that cover an area in Brazil similar that’s about the size of England!
It’s unclear if the people in the video are the authors or the narrators, though it doesn't detract from the video. The narrator uses simple, jargon-free language. Also, pay attention to the structure: an introduction describing the area, the mounds, and the authors’ questions; their methods, and their possible explanation.
The authors knew they had to highlight the most striking aspects of their topic to engage the viewer: the vast size of these insect constructions, how they extend underground, and the huge area they occupy.
One slight shortcoming of the video is that over half of it is spent describing the structures, which are indeed impressive. In contrast, the methods used, and the conclusions extracted are packed into the video’s last seconds.
Those matters aside, the authors have made this video abstract so interesting that well over 100,000 people were curious about it. That’s really good impact. We’re not all so fortunate to work with visually stunning science, and we may not get 100K viewers on YouTube, but we can still learn to highlight the best points and explain them accessibly and with good video work.
Resources for making your video abstract
- Cell Press video abstract guidelines
- Make a video abstract for your research, University of Oklahoma
- Some tips for producing good video abstracts
- JoVE, a peer-reviewed video journal
- Animate Your Science Blog, ways to make video abstracts - with examples
Can someone make my video abstract for me?
Yes, we can. Research Square’s Research Promotion services will help you get the word out about your research in powerful ways beyond print publication.
Our Video Abstract service is a completely customized package of animation and narration about your science. We work with you to tailor a beautiful visual presentation like this:
So if you’ve read this article but you’re just too pressed for time, overwhelmed with other duties, and want to be sure your video abstract attracts viewers, look into the Research Square Video Abstract service. We’d love to help you tell your story.