How important is video to Technical Authors?

Internet Psychologist Graham Jones addressed this question in his most recent weekly email.

He said:

Video is everywhere online. Indeed, YouTube is now the second biggest search engine, according to recent figures. When people can’t find what they want on Google, they turn instead to YouTube to find an answer, before they head off to alternative search engines such as Bing or Yahoo…

As you read this, 2,200 videos are being watched online at this very moment in time. Every day 184m videos are downloaded…

Who, for instance, would have thought that a video showing how electricians can use a tool for wrapping wires would be interesting? Yet, it receives an average of 8 views per day – so far totting up over 7,000 views on YouTube alone. True, this is not viral, but take a look at the statistical graph that YouTube shows for each video like this. In other words, even with comparatively boring topics, video is becoming more and more important online. If video were merely something interesting to add to a website as part of the furniture you would not expect the growth in viewing that videos like this receive.

Graham argues you cannot afford to ignore video. Whilst it is a requirement for your company’s online (i.e Web site) presence, do audiences expect it in the online Help and other forms of support documentation? Possibly not yet, but how long will it be before video is a fundamental part of User Assistance?

I have a great respect for Graham and his expertise, and video is something we’ve been implementing for a while (as an aside, we are both speaking at an event on Social Media later this month).

I’m sure neither of us would argue that video will replace text. Instead, people will expect information to be delivered through a variety of media.

The questions for Technical Authors are:

  • Can they be sure they will be the people creating this type of information?
  • If someone else does the work, will the Technical Author’s relevance and importance take a step down the corporate ladder?
  • If they are expected to do this work, do they have the skills to do a good job of it?
  • Which will come first – the video or the text? Will it be easier to create the video and transcribe the text, or to create a video from the information provided in a user guide?

YouTube was founded as recently as 2005, and the growth of video has been stratospheric since then. The need for Technical Authors to develop their video strategy may come sooner than they think.



I have been asked to create and narrate proof-of-concept video tutorials at my work This kind of thing is here to stay.

Julio Vazquez

Two years ago I saw a presentation on embedding video in DITA source. Recently, the RTP/Boston DITA User’s Group received an update on this topic. Why? Because I think that video can be important to augment complex procedures by demonstrating the steps that can be stumbling blocks to success. I truly think that technical communicators cannot ignore video, but I’m not sure that they are responsible for creating that content, but they are responsible for using video effectively to augment their content.

Video, by itself may not be enough. However, a good integration of text and video, that allows the user the choice of viewing the video and with enough granularity that you don’t need to stop, rewind, and replay is a great communication combination.

Vinish Garg

I worked on a couple of documentation projects in 2010 where the business wanted videos (multiple videos for different procedures/features their product) ALONG with the traditional Help file. We developed videos AFTER we worked on the online user manual as it helped us prepare accurate scripts, and hence accurate vidoes with fewer iterations and editing sessions.

Alan Pringle

Video can be a useful way to communicate to end users, but you need to consider a lot of factors, including audience, accessibility, and the software/hardware necessary to access it.

If your audience is video-savvy and expects video, you probably need to deliver video. On the flip side, don’t use video as a way to get around providing text when your users really prefer the written word (in print, online help, knowledge bases, PDF, or whatever).

How does your video content accommodate those with visual and hearing impairments? Not only is it just plain wrong to shut out a whole group of end users, you can also get into legal trouble for not providing accessible information.

A lot of video right now is Flash-based. That’s a problem if you’re delivering content to many smartphones now on the market.

In short: there are *many* factors to consider before you decide to provide video–and those need to be worked out before you even think about the actual content of the videos themselves.


Video is potentially cheap, direct and persuasive. It’s all potentially hard, slow and troublesome.

I did a couple of short promo films recently. It went something like this: 2 hours to script some questions, 1-2 hours to get 40 mins of film. Half a day transcribing the rushes and thinking about the content. Half a day in the edit suite to distil down. A bit of techy work to publish.

So maybe a day and a half to get two films, of about 45′ and 1’45.

Screen capture based tutorials with voice-over are quicker, but again it’s all in the thinking and preparation.

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