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Educators, Embrace the Power of Video Editing and Trim the Fat

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In December, I wrote about research indicating that 6 minutes is the optimal video length to keep students’ attention. Since the issue was published, I have received several concerned emails from instructors and producers worried about longer videos that they felt couldn’t easily be cut down to that magic mark.

Each writer’s circumstances were a little different, but what became clear is that it’s a slippery slope from that 6­minute length being a guideline to a steadfast rule that shall not be violated, lest students’ attention abruptly shut off like a sprinkler on a timer. The anxiety is understandable—as schools invest more in educational video, those working on the front lines don’t want to inadvertently jeopardize administrators’ support. Let me elaborate to set some minds at ease.

It’s important to embrace the power of editing. That means not only making videos shorter, but also making them more concise and even more coherent. While 6 minutes is a benchmark, it’s not a standard. The edit should serve the content, as well as the target duration. Videos can be longer if you prioritize viewers’ attention. Moreover, creative cuts can enhance accessibility.

Think about the articles on StreamingMedia.com. Columns, such as this one, contain about 750 words. A column’s purpose is to convey one well­defined idea or opinion, in a bite­sized chunk. It’s not a philosophical treatise or research report. The word count should force writers to make their arguments succinctly. In that way, columns are like a 6­minute video.

My first draft may start off hundreds of words too long. When I revise, I often find excess verbosity that muddles my point. As I strip away words, my ideas tend to get clearer too.

In a video, dead time is a lot like unnecessary verbiage—especially if the program was recorded live. Look for moments when nothing much happens and take them out. Also consider excising introductions, complex definitions, or other parts that may be better delivered in print than by someone speaking. As you concentrate on keeping only the most important parts, your video becomes better too.

Product reviews run longer, up to several thousand words in order to tackle a subject with some depth. They’re more like a half­hour video, which could be a lecture, demonstration, or even a scripted program.

An actual feature­length article is often split into sections. These divisions serve as a guide to help readers navigate the piece. Like chapters in a book, they function as mile markers so that readers may review a particular point or a have a logical place to stop and return to later.

If you’re dealing with a longer video that seems like it can’t be cut down, think of ways to chunk it up. First, look for natural breaks or places where the topic changes. These are the video equivalent of section headers, and they’re good places to make cuts.

If those edits don’t get you far enough, make less obvious cuts. When a feature film airs on commercial TV, not every ad break comes during a transition between scenes. A talk show host may interrupt a guest or caller to go to commercial. These kinds of interruptions don’t have to be disruptive. As long as you’re not cutting someone off mid­sentence or mid­point, your viewers probably won’t even notice.

When you’re done editing, you’ll present students with four or five shorter videos rather than a single 30­minute program. Viewers can watch the segments in sequence and easily repeat sections as necessary.

Of course, you can accomplish something similar by chaptering a longer video, but don’t underestimate the power of expectations. Students anticipating an hour­long video may procrastinate getting started, even if the video is chaptered. Some may choose to power through the entire presentation but drift off in the middle. But when they’re presented with a sequence of 5­ to 10­minute programs, they know exactly what’s in store and can budget their time and attention appropriately.

The key is to respect viewers’ attention while keeping your content useful and useable. Take the time you need, but no more, and students will be glad to stay tuned.

This article originally ran in the June 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Embrace the Power of Editing.”

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