What Makes a Winning Video Abstract?

Fitting your research into 3 minutes is not an easy job. In fact, most scientists who created video abstracts last year remarked it was the most difficult part of the challenge. There are a multitude of stories from your research, great moments and experiences that led to your results. Unfortunately, 180 seconds isn’t always enough time to include everything.

So how do you decide what to cut and what to keep?

The 30,975 student judges who helped select the winners of the 2014 Ocean 180 Video Challenge had the chance to provide comments for each of the top 10 video abstracts. Sorting through the ballots (over 1,400!) was a little overwhelming, but gave some great insight into what our judging team is looking for. These 6 elements were among the most frequently mentioned by the student judges in their critiques. While it is far from a complete list, it might help you in deciding what stays and what goes.

  1. Show the funny side of science

A little humor can go a long way. Showing that you can see the fun in science, even while conducting important research helps make the subject more approachable. From voice-overs and music to demonstrations and animations, students appreciated the small efforts scientists took to make their subject fun. But this comes with a note of caution: there is such a thing as too much humor in the eyes of our student judges. As 6th-8th grade students, they are keenly aware when something might be made “for little kids”.

  1. Why is your research important?

Some of the highest scores went to entries that answered that very question. Students were drawn to the entries that made science a part of their lives, something that can help and impact them, not just something only important to adult scientists. It wasn’t always enough when videos showed cool pictures and fancy science equipment, as students wanted to see the bigger picture. Their comments reflected “a-ha” moments, seeing the connection between science and themselves and motivating them to learn more.

  1. Student judges want to learn

By far, the most frequent comments on top entries discussed how much students learned. Their votes reflected a desire to learn something new and their excitement when they understood the material. The winning entry highlighted research on internal waves which, to quote a student judge, is “a potentially boring subject”. But their comments were flooded with excited students who learned something new, and wanted to learn even more. Who knew physical oceanography could be so cool?

  1. A picture’s worth 1,000 words

The student judges are tough critics, especially when it comes to graphics and images used in the videos. They may not know everything about science (yet), but they will be sure to point out any time you use a picture more than once or don’t quite fit. In those 3 minutes, they want to see images that help tell the story and clarify your science. Make sure your graphics support your message, rather than distract.

  1. Think your research is exciting? Show it!

It’s amazing how the narration and personality scientists provided in the top video abstracts hooked the student judges.  In sharing their enthusiasm, they were able to make virtually any topic exciting. Students were equally quick to call out entries lacking enthusiasm, with one student remarking “your research seems really cool, why don’t sound excited about it?”

  1. Meeting the scientists

One of the biggest disappointments students expressed was when they did not get to “meet the scientists” in the video abstracts. It’s tough to fit yourself in when you already have limited time and a lot of information to share, but don’t forget that you are a part of the scientific process too. The human element of science is important to emphasize. In videos that showed one or more scientist on-screen, we found student comments echoing “I could see myself doing this kind of research someday”.


Perhaps what is so striking about these comments is that they are not exclusive to Ocean 180. Humor, relevance, passion, and effective visuals are hallmarks of effective presentations for scientific and non-scientific audiences alike. While these elements could lead to an award-winning submission to Ocean 180, honing these skills will go a long way in communication of your research in almost any setting. We challenge you, not only to create a video abstract, but to consider these elements in preparing your next presentation.


2 thoughts on “What Makes a Winning Video Abstract?

  1. Pingback: Updated Judging Rubrics | Ocean 180 Video Challenge Blog

  2. Pingback: Submission Portal Now Open! | Ocean 180 Video Challenge Blog

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