How To: Write a Voice Over Script for Medical Animation

Action potentials propagating through neuronal axons, in a cluster of neurons.
Action potentials propagating through a network of neurons. Image courtesy of XVIVO Scientific Animation.

Medical animation can be an amazing vehicle to explain complex science topics to viewers. The dynamic nature of animation can convey a rich experience and take viewers on a journey to understand concepts that are hard to grasp through written words or still images.

A medical animation is usually accompanied by a voice over script that is narrated by a professional and synced with the visuals. Ideally, the voice over script is developed very early in the course of a medical animation project, because the choice of what story is being told can dramatically affect the choice of visuals. Script first and visuals second is (usually) more efficient for the project as a whole, requiring fewer major revisions to the labor-intensive visuals.

Before the medical animation script comes the groundwork:

  • Who is your audience? A voice over script for the general public will use different language than one made for doctors.
  • What are the key points the audience needs to understand? Are we trying to educate viewers on a disease? Do we want to empower viewers to take action after watching the animation?
  • What is the science? Time to do some background research on the science and topics associated with the medical animation project.

Choose a story for your medical animation.

For a medical animation to be effective, it should present a story that is easy for the audience to follow.

  • It’s best to start the story at the macro visual level (human body, organ) and progress toward the micro level (cell, receptor). You can zoom back out to macro at the end of the script or make two transitions from macro to micro, but avoid having the story ping-pong between the zoom levels of the visuals.
  • A linear narrative can help: A causes B, B causes C…
  • Some typical story arcs are:
    • Start with the problem (disease), then introduce a solution (drug)
    • Start with normal physiology, then move into the disease state
    • Start with the history of a certain disease/therapy, and then describe recent advances

Start writing the voice over script.

Writing for medical animation is a different beast than writing for other scientific media, such as manuscripts, brochures, or white papers.

  • Write using action words – grow, shrink, attack, bind, release, migrate, flow
  • Use verb forms more than noun forms of the same word (eg, ‘the placenta develops abnormally’ instead of ‘abnormal placental development’)
  • Consider using guiding and transition words, eg ‘Then’ or ‘Next’, as they can help viewers follow the story
  • The tone can be more conversational than written media

With most writing projects, voice over scripts for medical animation start with an outline, and progress through a draft stage, and revisions. They are fully referenced to the original scientific literature.

Your data have a story to tell; let’s write it together.