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Style Manual

Video and audio

Video and audio are time-based media. Users can choose when and how much they view or listen to. If the format meets a user need, make sure anyone can access the content.

Use video or audio when users find it easy to understand and access

Ask whether time-based media (video or audio) is the best way to deliver a message or tell a story.

Check you:

  • understand who will use it, how they will access it and why
  • have (or can you get) the resources and expertise to do it.

Use video or audio if it:

  • suits the type of information you want to include
  • helps you reach most people who need to find that information
  • is accessible to those people.

Some users might find another content format more useful. If you create video or audio content, be aware of:

  • accessibility for time-based media (for example, closed captions)
  • the potential effect of flickering and dynamic content on a screen
  • language difficulties
  • the user’s environment (for example, a workplace where sound disturbs colleagues)
  • timing in the content and the time users are likely to spend using the content.

Provide a text alternative to video and audio for:

  • users who cannot reliably read captions or hear audio
  • users who have time pressures
  • search engine optimisation (SEO).

Before deciding if video or audio is the right format, do user research.

Time-based media need more resources than text to produce, maintain and update. Text-based content is usually a more feasible and accessible option to meet a user need.

Create video if the user needs a quick explanation

Video works best when it is short, accessible and shows something people need to know quickly.

Governments use video to communicate with their employees and the public. Some uses are to:

  • introduce new topics and ideas
  • promote government programs
  • explain policies and procedures to staff
  • show people how to do something, such as complete a form
  • stream events and ceremonies.

All video production requires a level of in-house and external professional expertise. Follow the requirements and standards for video and audio.

Duration

Online videos should have one key message. They should be be no more than one to 2 minutes long, especially if you share the video on social media.

Videos covering complex topics and hosted on your organisation’s website can be longer. Check your organisation’s policy for the preferred length of videos.

Break the video into smaller, stand-alone pieces if:

  • the message is complex
  • there is more than one message.

Platform

You can place video on webpages, blogs or social media channels. Once you have chosen a platform, check its video publishing guidelines. Video is the preferred format of some social media platforms. Check which file format the platform accepts.

Tags

You can add tags or hashtags on any platform to help people find video content. Add hashtags across several platforms to increase the likelihood that people will find the video. 

Use words that the user is most likely to type into search engines.

Animation

Use animation to show complex processes or abstract ideas.

Animation works well on social media platforms. People can usually understand them with or without audio.

As for other types of videos, animation must tell a story. You should include a call to action so users know what they can do next.

Animation videos are not only cartoons or slideshows. Use animated infographics to show and explain government information and services. Examples include:

  • evolving timelines and charts
  • moving text on maps and graphs
  • interactive graphics that allow an expanded view or that change when selected.

Use professionals to create animation videos. Animators:

  • structure and evolve messages in creative ways
  • understand how viewers respond to different elements of animation design
  • pace the changes onscreen so viewers have the time to understand what is happening.

Accessibility requirements

When using text or images of text in animation, meet minimum requirements for colour contrast. Ensure colour is not the only means of conveying meaning.

Follow the requirements and standards for video and audio.

WCAG quick reference:

1.4.1 Use of colour – level A

1.4.3 Contrast (minimum) – level AA

Live action video

Use live action to show people in a real-world environment.

Live action requires careful composition. Ensure that the subject is:

  • clearly lit
  • in focus
  • not obstructed by other features.

Use candid shots and real scenes that are simple, interesting and original. Visuals should be crisp and use natural colours.

People in the video should wear appropriate clothing and avoid:

  • offensive slogans or slogans that will distract the viewer
  • branding and logos
  • fine patterns and stripes, which reduce image quality by creating a ‘moiré’ pattern.

Moiré patterns give a distorted representation of fine detail in an image.

Broadcasting live

Use live broadcast to record events as they happen.

Live broadcast works well for discussions, addresses and interviews. Often, they are broadcast in-house to staff in government agencies.

A live broadcast needs equipment, scripting, lighting, staging and audio expertise. 

Accessibility requirements

Include live captioning in synchronised media for live broadcasts to ensure content is available to all users. 

Follow the requirements and standards for video and audio.

WCAG quick reference:

1.2.4 Captions (live) – level AA

Add audio if the user needs more help to understand

Audio supports video (audio-visual content), or can be its own type of content (audio-only content). Many agencies also produce audio descriptions of written material to make content accessible.

Examples of audio-visual content include:

  • soundtracks for online training material
  • audio for videos, filmed presentations and live events
  • short sound files for government and agency branding.

Examples of government audio-only content are:

  • oral histories
  • historical recordings used for educational purposes
  • podcasts.

Audio-only content can be an engaging and relatable way to explain complex topics. You can:

  • record events, such as speeches
  • create longer-form audio, such as podcasts
  • use historical audio of people and events to bring the past alive for listeners.

Audio-only content can improve someone’s understanding of a topic. It takes a lot of resources to create, enhance and publish audio on its own. Other formats may meet user needs more effectively. Do user research to find out who will listen to the audio and why.

Follow the requirements and standards for audio.

Finalise the script before you start recording

Have a clear story before you begin production.

Effective audio-visual or audio-only content begins with a script that:

  • outlines what the content will cover (the beginning)
  • uses action and audio to show the key idea (the middle)
  • tells people about what they can do next (the end). 

Take the time to create a well-written script with a clear structure. 

Ensure audio and supporting text use inclusive language. Show inclusion and diversity in imagery (for audio-visual content) and script roles.

Agree on the script with stakeholders and approvers before you record. It’s much easier to change a script or outline than the content once you produce it.

Use the script as the basis for the text version (media alternative) for the recording to meet accessibility and SEO requirements.

Structure and format

Script-writing requires technical skill. A good script is written by someone who either:

  • understands the topic and can write a script to support it
  • can do the necessary research and work with a subject expert.

Otherwise, there’s a risk the script will not be accurate. This means users may get the wrong message or mistrust what they hear and stop listening. Consider using a professional script writer.

Scripts provide clear directions for speakers about emphasis and pronunciation. When printed or displayed, scripts use:

  • a plain font
  • wide line spacing
  • white space
  • short paragraphs
  • short sentences and some longer sentences to reflect speech patterns
  • markers for brief pauses throughout to help speakers breathe and listeners think

The length of the script depends on the topic and the format you’re recording.

Some video and audio formats are partially scripted. The partial script will outline both the beginning and the end of the content, but might not structure the middle.

For an interview, you might create a conversation outline with a series of questions. Responses and follow-up questions might be unscripted. You should still write the beginning and end of the content as script.

Language and tone in audio-only content

Because audio-only content isn’t supported by images, language and tone of voice are important:

  • Use simple language and a conversational tone, and avoid jargon.
  • Don’t over-simplify to the point where you lose meaning and people feel patronised.

A conversational tone also helps the speakers inject their personalities into the script. Follow Australian Public Service values, regardless of the topic.

Proofing

Read the script aloud. This is the best way to find out what works and what doesn’t work. You can record yourself and listen back to build empathy with users.

Check that the script explains what users want or need to understand. If it doesn’t, rewrite it.

Use a timer to help you work out how long the script might take to record.

Choose actors and speakers to suit the content (the talent)

‘Talent’ is the industry term for the people who feature in video and audio content.

The talent you engage, and when you engage them, depends on the type of content. For example, you might:

  • plan an oral history project around a particular speaker
  • engage an expert speaker who understands technical subjects.

It can also make sense to find suitable speakers after you write the script. Some audio needs professional interview skills or voice talent.

Make sure:

  • the people being recorded speak clearly
  • speech is at a rate of between 130 and 170 words per minute. This is about the rate of an Australian giving a speech that is easy to understand
  • you record at a volume, pace, tone and rhythm that are appropriate to the message.

You might also:

  • factor the cost of a speaker into your planning (and budget) 
  • consider your approach to recruiting diverse talent, as more people relate to audio-visual content that is inclusive and representative.

Ensure everyone featuring in video or audio content signs a release form.

Privacy requirements

Your organisation has obligations under the Privacy Act 1988.

Privacy is relevant whenever it's possible to identify someone. Treat things that can or might identify an individual as personal information. Personal information can include things like a voice recording or someone's appearance.

When you handle personal information, you must comply with the Australian Privacy Principles. Personal information is any information that could identify an individual, in any format.

Release notes

The digital edition significantly updates and expands information about video. It adds new guidance for audio as a distinct format. Updates and revisions cover when to use time-based media, mandatory requirements and accessibility.

The sixth edition mentioned video briefly in several sections but did not give comprehensive information on technical requirements for audio-visual content. It referred to ‘moving images’.

The Content Guide had guidelines on video use, content and length. It has information about accessibility requirements for video, including the use of audio description. 

About this page

References

Biteable (n.d.) ‘Video script writing 101: basics, examples, and templates’, Biteable blog, accessed 22 May 2020.

Clement J (2020) Device usage of Facebook users worldwide as of July 2020, Statista website, accessed 16 September 2020.

Facebook for Business (21 April 2016) ‘Capturing attention in feed: the science behind effective video creative’, Facebook for Business, accessed 16 September 2020.

King E (20 November 2014) ‘Scripting podcasts: three tips for writing podcast episodes’, Radix Communications, accessed 16 September 2020.

Lynch PJ and Horton S (2016) Web style guide, 4th edn, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Travers D (29 January 2020) ‘25 best animated infographic examples online’, Spiel, accessed 16 September 2020.

W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) (n.d.) ‘Understanding guideline 1.2: time-based media’, Understanding WCAG 2.1, W3C website, accessed 16 September 2020.

W3C (2019) ‘Audio content and video content’, Making audio and video content accessible, W3C website, accessed 25 August 2020.

W3C (2019) Making audio and video media accessible, W3C website, accessed 8 November 2019.

York A (2020) ‘Always up-to-date guide to social media video specs’, Sprout, accessed 16 September 2020.

This page was updated Friday 9 October 2020.

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