Five Steps of an Economics Research Video

Some economists don’t think it is possible to summarise research in under three minutes – but we think it is, and at Econ Films we’ve done it hundreds of times. (A big part of this is because we work with economists and don’t try to catch them out)

Whenever we are asked to produce a video about a piece of research, we start with the same process that we’ve refined through hundreds of interviews. Of course, every research project is different – as is every video – but the starting place for a video about research 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 with economists to help them give the best answers to the following questions.

Here we show 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 in economics there is a problem in society that needs solving – and outlining that problem will help people to see why your research (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 economists can hone in on their research. But it is important to relate this question to the problem.

3. ‘What’s the method?’ In other words, why should we believe you? This is where economists get really excited. If we were just to take an economist’s word for it, there would be no need for research. So 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 research to have lasting impact, not to be instantly forgotten, so keep it in the present tense and say ‘we find that’ rather than ‘we found that’. 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.

Watch the full video with Amanda Agan here


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