When to Use Video


When should I use video and when should I use text? This paper will look at this very popular content question. This paper will not look at the overall video strategy for CCxG or give prescriptive advice for when/where using video is recommended. These latter two topics are covered in separate whitepapers:

  • When to Use Video, and When to NOT Use Video
  • Why Use Video

The short answer is – it depends. There is no one solution – sometimes video can stand alone and sometimes it works better paired with a written topic. Sometimes text is the better choice.

In a separate white paper I identified topics that are good candidates for video and topics that are not. But sometimes the answer isn't simply what is suited to video, but what resources and budget a Team has at its disposal. Assuming a bottomless budget, I recommend using the When to use video and when to Not use video whitepaper to identify topics to create/convert to video. And to address accessibility, SEO, and learning styles – offer the content in some form of text format as well.

Should video replace or accompany written topics?

As communicators and teachers, we can provide our learners with a more rich experience by pairing text with other forms of media. Video and text both have their strengths and weaknesses, but for almost all video content (see When to use video and when Not to use video), text and video together increase our effectiveness.

In some situations, together means that the written content is a duplicate of the spoken video content. In other situations, together means that the video and written content complement each other.

Duplicate content (sort of)

Pairing video and text doesn't mean there needs to be a full-blown written topic; a transcript is good enough. There is very little extra work involved in providing a transcript – in most cases the writer already has a transcript written and, if not, we now have budget for in-house automated transcript services. Additionally, Office has a free transcript-creation tool it is testing. I haven't tried it yet, but it has the potential to allow us to create transcripts on our own.

For existing topics that a writer wants to convert to a video, the written content is a perfect starting point. With a little work, the topic can be repurposed as a script; and the script, as a transcript.

A transcript serves many purposes.

  • It addresses accessibility concerns for sight- and hearing-challenged learners.
  • Learners with bandwidth issues, or who are not permitted to watch videos in the workplace, can rely on the transcripts.
  • It is much easier to localize a transcript than it is to localize a video. In fact, having an English-language transcript as a starting point makes localize quicker and less-expensive.
  • Transcripts can be searched!
  • Some learners may want to skim the transcript first before investing in watching the video.
  • Others may want to come back to the transcript after watching the video in order to find a specific snippet of content.
  • If a task is complicated, the video is a great starting point for learners to get an understanding of the task or to allay their fears. They'll come away with a much clearer picture of the task but may not remember all of the details. They may want to come back and skim or search the transcript if they get stuck.

And an added bonus – closed captioning

The same in-house service that creates automatic transcripts can also provide a Closed Caption file (CC). Again, I haven't yet been able to implement this, but will be looking into it later this year. Closed captions are like subtitles – the words are synchronized with the video. Automated CC can also be helpful for LOC. It is much easier to localize the CC than it is to produce the video in other languages or even to re-record the narration in other languages. While completely localizing video is the optimal experience, it usually not feasible because of resources and budget. However, localizing the CC is quicker and easier and shows commitment on our part to non-English-speaking learners.

Complementary content

This is a special area where content may call for both a written topic AND a video. These two types of content should complement each other – not duplicate each other.

Writers cannot write topics at the perfect level for all learners. Writers assume a technical persona and write with that specific level of learner proficiency and/or knowledge in mind. Proficient learners don't want to be slowed down by overly-explicit instructions – they don't need a lot of explanation. But what about newer or not-as-proficient learners who also need to be successful?

One answer is to create a complementary video with transcript. Even if no extra words are added, just being able to see what is being done adds that helpful context and content for not-as-proficient learners. Add in captions, zooms, titling, and other graphic elements and the video became that much more helpful.

The narrator also has the ability to allay the fears of new learners (see Why Video whitepaper) and to make a connection with the learner that makes learning more enjoyable.

Here is an interesting analogy I found on the idratherbewriting.com website:

The text instructions took 30 seconds to read, whereas the video took 9 minutes to watch. But since I was unfamiliar with the process, I preferred the video to make sure I was doing the task right. The more familiar you are with something, the less instruction you need. I think this sums up well the preferences for video versus text. I think it's more likely that for things we're familiar with, we prefer text because it allows us to quickly find the information we need. This is true, my wife said, when she's cooking in the kitchen. If she's making bread, for example, she often needs only to glance at the recipe to get the measurements for ingredients.

But if you're less familiar with the task, video and more abundant instructions are welcome, even if lengthy. If I myself were making bread in the kitchen, I would benefit from watching a video that shows the kneading and punching process, because I don't think I've ever made bread in my life.

Given the possible differences in the audience's familiarity, it's a good idea to provide multiple forms of instruction — both text and video. But it isn't feasible to do this with all topics. So pick and choose the most troublesome, the most important, the most appropriate, etc.

Video only

There are a few situations where video can stand on its own. Inline and embedded video which is already surrounded by related text, for example, does not need a transcript. And there will be other situations, where providing video on its own may be the best option for logistical reasons – perhaps there is no time or budget for creating a complementary topic or a transcript and having the video is much preferable to having nothing at all. Another example may be a long webcast where it is more important to get the webcast posted than it is to wait for the transcription process to complete.

Text only

There are many situations where text can and should stand on its own. See When to Use Video and When to Not Use Video.


There is no one solution – sometimes video can stand alone and sometimes it works better paired with a written topic. Sometimes text is the better choice. By knowing their audience and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each medium, writers have the tools necessary to identify those topics best suited to each content type.