The 5 step approach

Can you get across your research in a two-minute video?

High-quality short videos can be valuable way to share your research or idea in a way that’s accessible and impactful. They can be an entry point into your work, where the audience can understand why your work matters, the rigour behind your approach and the solutions you are proposing. It may well be the thing that gets a policy maker, funder or stakeholder to get in touch or read a full paper or report.

At Econ Films we’ve made hundreds of these videos with research and policy-focused institutions and academics, including a number of Nobel Laureates. We’re able to do this, because we understand and care about the issues and ideas involved and have developed an approach that makes sure these films are engaging at the same time as being faithful and representative of the work itself

Of course, every project is different – as is every video – but the starting place for these explainer films remains the same. As Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman said when we interviewed him: ‘no one cares about your title – you need to make your argument on its own merits and you need to speak in plain English’. To engage the audience you need to get them to care. Our process is designed to do all of this. We work closely with our contributors and clients to help them give the best answers to the following questions.

We ask five questions that help to shape the story of your research – a five-step approach – and they work in a similar way to the five acts of a film or play. Here we share these questions along with examples of how to get to the best answers. Amanda Agan, of Rutgers University, has kindly allowed us to use her interview about her research into the ‘Ban the Box’ policy in the US. This interview took a few takes, but we managed to condense her work into 140 seconds – short enough to be embedded within a tweet. You can watch the video and read the questions below.

1. ‘What’s the problem?’ Or putting it even more bluntly: ‘Why should I care?’ Often there is a problem in society that needs solving – and outlining that problem will help people to see why your work (on that problem) matters. If they care about the problem, they will care about the research.

2. ‘What’s the question?’ Next is the specific question that addresses the problem. This is where researchers can outline their research question. But it is important to relate this question to the problem and use the same language.

3. ‘What’s the method?’ In other words, why should we believe you? We need to get to the core of how this question is answered. This section usually starts with: ‘To answer this question, we looked at X. We took Y,000 people and split them into two groups. One group received policy Z while the other received no policy. We compared the results after several years.’

4. ‘What’s the finding?’ You want your work or research to have lasting impact, not to be instantly forgotten, so keep this in the present tense and say ‘we find’ rather than ‘we found’. Be as concrete as possible with simple, plain English. For example, compare ‘Educational outcomes went up by 24%’ with ‘School grades went up – with nearly a quarter of students now getting Grade A’.

5. ‘What’s the takeaway?’ This is a chance to summarise your findings for the target audience and, if relevant, make a call to action. We often ask interviewees to spell it out: ‘The key takeaway for [the target audience] is…’ Try to tie this back to the problem that people care about. If they care about the problem, they will care about the research and they will care about the takeaway.