Sunday, July 12, 2009

Opportunities in Writing How-to Videos

I saw this article about how-to videos in the New York Times this week. Although the article focuses on, the article notes that several sites feature how-to videos, including (a quick Google search turned up several, including,,, and

As a technical writer and instructional designer by training, it’s nice that people are finally seeing the value in this type of material.

And for you future producers of how-to videos, the article suggests or implies several interesting teaching points:

(1) Interest in instructional content in everyday life is strong. A belief exists that users are interested. Businesses definitely are interested.

And for you guys—some of these companies are willing to pay a little bit up-front for content, as well as a share of future ad revenues should the clip become a hit.

Downside in terms of content: subject matter can be a bit on the trivial side and attention span for these informal videos is probably short, 3 to 5 minutes.

(2) Cost issues: Web-based videos are cheaper to produce than traditional ones. It’s not just that the cameras are much cheaper; video production can now occur on a typical computer (instead of souped0up ones) and can produce acceptable, commercial quality. Implications: lower prices for instructional videos (which were already at the lower end of the market to begin with).

(3) Ethical issues: when a company produces online educational content, how far do they go to promote their brand? In some cases, it’s essential (see discussion of Nescafe Gold, which also suggests that “intuitive” products aren’t always intuitive, and that intuition has a cultural dimension.) In some cases, brand promotion needs to be minimized.

Read the full article at


Karen said...

Technical communicators can add even more value when they help to caption or audio-describe these how-to videos. Deaf or hard-of-hearing are excluded from these videos unless someone takes the time to caption them or provide a transcript. It may not be easy to do this at first, but that is where technical communicators can lead the way!

Karen said...

I should have clarified: audio descriptions are for the vision impaired. They, too, are being excluded from the thousands of videos being produced on a regular basis. Technical communicators can help push the idea of "inclusive".