Engage Your Inner Hollywood and Make a Video Abstract

Written by: Anna Noga

Using different communication methods, beyond the journal publication and conference circuit, can be an effective way to increase the impact and reach of research evidence. Not only is this true when trying to communicate with the public, but also when engaging with colleagues and other stakeholders. As such, researchers are being increasingly encouraged to use methods such as social media, stories, podcasts, and YouTube videos in their knowledge dissemination efforts. However, with many other pressing obligations, time is at a premium for most investigators. Venturing outside of their communication comfort zone is often seen as an intimidating endeavor that will take away too much time and/or resources.

Recently, a group from the U of A’s Department of Pediatrics took the plunge and decided to make a video abstract for their publication “Digital Technology Distraction for Acute Pain in Children: A Meta-analysis” which was recently published in Pediatrics. The result was an engaging four-minute video where Medi the robot interviewed the senior author, Dr. Samina Ali. KT Alberta sat down with two of the authors, Dr. Michelle Gates and Dr. Samina Ali, to discuss the process of making this video abstract, and to ask if they had any advice for other researchers who are thinking about making one themselves.

Like many other journals (e.g. BMJ Journals, Sage Publications, JCI, etc.) Pediatrics provides guidelines and options on how to make a video abstract. The simplest option is for the investigator to record themselves outlining their research verbally, using a cell phone. The simplicity of this option makes the video abstract possible for any researcher, and therefore it is a commonly chosen format. When the U of A team was asked to make the video abstract though, they decided to try something more elaborate even though they knew it would take more time and effort.

Dr. Gates: "I had never done something like this before, so part of me wanted to just go the easiest route with making some slides and talking in the background. Still, we really wanted to make something more interesting; something that people would want to watch."
Dr. Ali: "We had the privilege of having access to Medi the robot. Since this systematic review was about digital technology for distracting children, it made complete sense when a colleague had the idea of connecting the two. It was such a natural fit for the topic."

The team was given a deadline of three months to make the video abstract, and both agree that time span was needed to make all of the necessary arrangements. Spread over those three months, however, they estimate they committed a total of 24 hours of their time to make the video abstract.

Dr. Ali: "First, there was that intellectual work of coming up with the idea. It probably took us two days to actually agree to this and to know what was happening well enough to say “let’s do this.” After, it took around 6 to 8 hours of hard work with writing the script, reviewing documents, organizing meetings, meeting the team, and filming the video itself."

Filming of the abstract itself took around 1.5 hours, and the result was a professional looking and sounding video. The team credits this to the audiovisual expertise they found at the U of A’s Centre of Teaching and Learning (CTL).

"Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and do it, because it’s the right thing to do in order to translate the knowledge that you want to get out there. When you’re writing a paper, you’re mostly reaching the mind. When you’re making a video like this, you’re trying to reach the audience’s heart."
Dr. Ali: "We don’t know how to make a great video. The CTL team brought their expertise to the table on how to make it look good, sound good, smoother transitions. Things that I would not have had the expertise or equipment to tackle.T hey set it up quickly. They knew exactly what they needed for the type of video I asked for."

Both agreed that without the services of the CTL, they would have had to choose a much simpler format for their video abstract. As well, either more time would have been spent finding expertise at a cost that fit their budget, or the quality would have decreased as they would not have had access to sophisticated recording equipment or professional film editing.

Dr. Ali admits she was nervous during the filming process but, “sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and do it,  because it’s the right thing to do in order to translate the knowledge that you want to get out there. When you’re writing a paper, you’re mostly reaching the mind. When you’re making a video like this, you’re trying to reach the audience’s heart. You’re trying to get them excited and interested. That involves a little bit of showmanship.”

The Wiley Network states that articles with video abstracts have 82% more full-text downloads. Although they don’t know the impact of the video on their publication’s readership numbers, This team knows that the reach of their message is expanding through social media. Since the video was posted on Twitter and Facebook in mid-January 2020, it has been shared internationally and it is still being retweeted one month after. All of the feedback has been very positive so far, and colleagues and friends have been eager to share it on their own social media channels. The team sees the video abstract as a versatile tool that could be used in many different ways for the long term.

Dr. Ali: "The robot is adorable. People enjoy watching that video more than they would, for instance, just one of us talking about the study. You can use it in multiple ways during presentations. If our research program has a booth set up somewhere, we can keep running a loop of it on an iPad. I think we’re going to get traction out of it in the coming years. It’s a great KT tool."

The team is satisfied with the final product and the excitement it has generated, but they admit they already know what they would do differently next time. While making the video, they found it challenging to fit all of the information they wanted to include within the 4-minute limit. However,

Dr. Gates: "When we went through it a few times after, we noticed that it sounds like Samina was almost reading the manuscript. When people are watching a video they want something a bit more engaging. People get bored so fast; often they’ll only give you 30 seconds of their attention."

Both agree in the future, they would limit any video abstract to 2 minutes, or shorter, with the take-home message stated within the first 30 seconds. To do this they would focus less time on outlining the rigor of their methods and just focus on the main results that they really want those watching the video to remember.

Dr. Ali: "We didn’t need to prove that our methods were robust. That was a given because the publication was accepted by a reputable journal who already did the vetting for the viewer."

Both agree that the time and effort they committed to the video abstract was worth it, and they encourage other researchers to try to “engage their inner Hollywood.” For researchers thinking about making a video abstract, Michelle and Samina offer the following advice:

Dr. Gates: "Keep it short, to the point, and exciting. Don’t try to do it yourself. Make sure you get help from experts because they have the creativity and imagination to make it interesting, and the equipment and expertise to make it look and sound good."
Dr. Ali: "Remember that you are making a movie, not writing a paper, so you need to think outside the box. Lead with the heart because that’s what you need to get folks engaged."

For health researchers in Edmonton, the focus of the CTL is to provide resources for teachers at the U of A, including audiovisual expertise for online courses. However, they are able to assist with video abstracts on a cost-recovery basis, depending on their capacity at the time of the request. For more information contact ctl@ualberta.ca.

For health researchers in Calgary, audiovisual support for making video abstracts are at AV Services at the Foothills Hospital Campus. For more information, you can contact their videographer, Scott Giffin.