Tips for rapid scientific recordings


If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth 1.8 million words. Like all great summary statistics, this has been discussed and challenged (Huffington Post supporting this idea and a nice comment at Replay Science reminding the public it is really a figure of speech).

Nonetheless, short scientific recordings, posted online are an excellent mechanism to put a face to a name, share your inspirations in science, and provide the public with a sense of connection to scientists. It is a reminder that people do science and that we care. I love short videos that provide the viewer with insights not immediately evident in the scientific product. Video abstracts with slide decks are increasingly common. I really enjoy them. However, sometimes I do not get to see what the person looks like (only the slide deck is shown) or how they are reacting/emoting when they discuss their science. Typically, we are not provided with a sense why they did the science or why they care. I think short videos that share a personal but professional scientific perspective that supplements the product is really important. I can read the paper, but if clarifications, insights, implications, or personal challenges in doing the research were important, it would be great to hear about them.

In that spirit, here are some brief suggestions for rapid scientific communications using recordings.


  1. Keep the duration at less than 2 minutes. We can all see the slider at the bottom with time remaining, and if I begin to disconnect, I check it and decide whether I want to continue. If it is <2mins, I often persist.
  2. Use a webcam that supports HD.
  3. Position the webcam above you facing down. This makes for a better angle and encourages you to look up.
  4. Ensure that you are not backlit. These light angles generally lead to a darker face that makes it difficult for the viewer to see any expressions at all.
  5. Viewers will tolerate relatively poor video quality but not audio. Do a 15 second audio test to ensure that at moderate playback volumes you can be clearly understood.
  6. Limit your message to three short blocks of information. I propose the following three blocks for most short recordings. (i) Introduce yourself and the topic. (ii) State why you did it and why you are inspired by this research. (iii) State the implications of the research or activity. This is not always evident in a scientific paper for instance (or framed in a more technical style), and in this more conversational context, you take advantage of natural language to promote the desired outcome.
  7. Prep a list of questions to guide your conversation. Typically, I write up 5-7 questions that I suspect the audience might like to see addressed with the associated product/activity.
  8. Do not use a script or visual aids. This is your super short elevator pitch. Connect with the audience and look into the camera.
  9. Have a very small window with the recording on screen, near the webcam position, to gently self-monitor your movement, twitches, and gestures. I find this little trick also forces me to look up near the webcam.
  10. Post online and use social media to effectively frame why you did the recordings. Amplify the signal and use a short comment (both in the YouTube/Vimeo field) and with the social media post very lightly promoting the video.

Happy rapid recording!