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Video essays and digital storytelling

A guide for creating video or multimedia projects for assignments.

Guiding questions

Guiding Questions

The following questions are similar to ones you would have to consider even if you were writing a traditional paper-based essay. 

I. Purpose

Purpose is the effect you want your presentation to have on an audience. In stating your purpose, you should frame your goal or objective. You might actually discover that your objective isn’t so singular; there might be two, three, or four goals. That’s fine, but define these goals and assign priorities to them, and ensure that they are mutually compatible.

  • What is the purpose of the video? (inform? teach? motivate? sell? persuade? entertain? enlighten? advocate? share? explain? contradict? propose?)
  • What essential message do you want to communicate? Can you reduce the takeaway to a single, simple idea you would want the viewer to remember?

II. Audience

Next, consider your intended audience and what they might be looking for or expecting from your work. You might think, "I can't answer this question, anyone could see it!" True, but if you were to retrospectively analyze the people who eventually do find and watch your video, you would, without doubt, be able to identify patterns and common characteristics of this audience. So, don't dismiss this step too quickly. There are valuable insights to uncover about people interested in your subject. You'll want to influence audience thinking and behavior, so knowing your audience and planning for them is one of the crucial steps toward engaging them. How will you reach this audience? What are appropriate terms, visuals, and language to reach this audience? Are sophisticated graphs appropriate, or simple diagrams/pictures? Will the use of flashy effects enhance your chances of communicating or will it get in the way? These are essential aspects to be considered before you begin.

  • Who is my intended audience?
  • What prior knowledge (if any) might they have of the topic?
  • Are there any unique aspects about my audience to keep in mind?
  • What benefits can I offer my audience?
    • Will the video help the viewer do something better?
    • Will the video inform viewers about something they didn't know before?
    • Will the video help prevent something bad from happening?
    • Will the video help the viewer make an important decision?
    • Will the video help improve the viewer's life?
  • What (if anything) do I want my audience to do after seeing my presentation? (e.g., check out a website? discuss the topic? etc.)

III. Perspective

Most videos need a key, handle, or angle from which to tell the story in the most interesting, riveting, and engaging way. Based on this, perspective and content go hand in hand. One way of determining your "angle" is to consider if one of the following narrative types fits with your purpose and content: a character story? travel story? place story (narrative archaeology)? transformation story? discovery story? relationship story? sacrifice story? accomplishment story?

  • From what perspective will your video be told? (e.g., personal? journalistic? biased/objective? etc.)
  • How would you characterize the "tone" of your video? (e.g., formal/informal? upbeat? melancholy? etc.)
  • How will the content be sequenced? (e.g., linear/nonlinear progression? chronological? logical? etc.)
  • Is there an style or aesthetic that inspires your treatment? (e.g., black-and-white? minimalist? retro? etc.)

In addition to the above, describe your video's content focus. Keep it brief and to the point. The purpose of the description is to succinctly explain what the video will present.

This segment copied and edited with permission from: Tufts University. (2014). Video treatment planning - Multimedia production guide.  Medford, MA. Retrieved from

Storyboarding using PowerPoint

Storyboarding using PowerPoint

Even if you're not planning on using PowerPoint, the best practices outlined in this 3-minute video should help you with the storyboard process.  The timing suggestions are very useful.

Video from: Tufts University. (2014). Storyboarding - Multimedia production guide.  Medford, MA. Retrieved from