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Competition toolkit

 Increase your chance of success

Enter the research competition by Monday 21 January 2019.

The LSE Festival research competition toolkit is here to help you decide which category to enter, and to make the most of your short film, photograph, poster or written pitch submission. 

Toolkit: how to make a short film

Concept development

The most important element of any successful film is its narrative. Before you think about anything technical, the first step is to develop a strong idea that will engage your audience. It’s often easy to focus too heavily on equipment and resources and not enough time on devising a compelling narrative.

  • It’s worthwhile looking at other short films to see how different subjects are explored. Short of the Week has a large catalogue of films, including documentaries, that demonstrate a wide range of approaches.
  • Writing a short synopsis (otherwise known as a treatment) is a helpful means of planning your film. A treatment is a short document that describes the film in chronological order. This is not only the plot, but an account of what the film looks and sounds like.
  • Once you are happy with the treatment, try drawing a storyboard. Storyboards encourage you to think visually and, more specifically, how a sequence of shots connect to one another to create meaning. You don’t need to be able to draw to successfully storyboard. What matters is that you can sketch out the visual elements of each shot, as well as organising the shots into the best order. Try these basic storyboarding templates.


Producing films can be an expensive venture. However, the budget of a film isn’t directly proportional to its quality. For example, in recent years a number of Hollywood filmmakers have rejected large scale production cameras in favour of iPhones. In 2015 Sean Baker directed Tangerine on an iPhone 5 while in 2018 Steven Sodenberg directed Unsane on an iPhone 7 Plus. With this in mind, here are some entry level equipment and tips for ensuring you get the best out of what you have.

  • Camera: A standard smart phone is more than sufficient for recording. It’s worth looking at the recording features of the phone. Many devices now have some manual functionality that gives you more control of the look of a shot. For example, it’s possible to lock the exposure on most devices so the camera doesn’t automatically brighten or darken the image. These are some helpful pointers.
  • The quality of the image largely depends on the location. Try to find spaces that are well lit, but be wary of shooting into light sources as this can be problematic.
  • Composition is key. These guidelines show some of the best ways to produce visually engaging images.
  • Sound: Bad sound recording is distracting and annoying. When conducting interviews it is important to keep the microphone as close to the interviewee as possible (within a metre or so). This may be a case of recording the audio on a separate device. Try to record in settings that have minimal extraneous noise and/or echo. A cheap and effective tip for recording voice over is to create a make-shift sound booth under a duvet.
  • Editing: There are a number of good editing platforms. Most iPhones and iPads have iMovie, which is excellent entry-level editing software. For Android users there is Adobe Premiere Clip, which is also free. For those wishing to edit on a PC, Windows Movie Maker is an easy to use editing option. 


Here are some good examples:

  • This video essay about video essays.
  • Island of Flowers is a great film that is about social inequalities and the economy (a good example of a film with a social science theme, albeit longer than 3 minutes).
  • A short film about LSE professor Ben Voyer’s work on self-construal theory.

Ready to make your short film?

  • Download these guidelines.
  • Visit the short film category page for judging criteria and an entry form.

Toolkit: how to produce a photograph

Telling the story

  • A great photograph should need no words to convey its meaning. Convey emotion: what do you want the viewer to feel?


  • Consider dramatic scale, contrasting colours/shapes, framing symmetrically/ or asymmetrically, interesting shapes, perspective, textures.
  • Good lighting: Shooting outdoors at the beginning or the end of a day usually has the best light. 


  • Shoot on the highest setting your camera will allow. Your image is going to be printed at A1 (594x841mm), so if your image is photographed on a low setting, it will pixelate when enlarged.
  • Photographs should have a resolution of 300dpi.


Look at other photographers’ work for inspiration.

Ready to produce your photograph?

  • Download these guidelines.
  • Visit the photograph category page for judging criteria and an entry form.

Toolkit: how to create a poster


Help the viewer navigate your poster and make the story you are trying to tell clear. Consider what will catch a viewer’s eye. It could be a dramatic heading or picture.

  • A great layout will make your poster more legible and visually appealing.
  • There should be a clear structure to your layout with clear headings at different sizes to denote all the categories of your poster.
  • Contrast a block of text, for instance, with an image or diagram. Lining up headings and creating typographic consistency will also make your poster more legible.
  • Never be afraid of white space. Putting too much on your poster will put the viewer off reading it. Less, sometimes can be more!
  • Designing your poster using a grid will also help. 


  • Choose a typeface that is easy to read and has a font family with several weights which will help create different titles and headings. Google fonts has many free fonts. Make sure you choose a font that is suitable for your audience, and limit the amount of sizes and weights you use.
  • Colour coding can also be an effective way of differentiating different sections of your poster. However, sometimes limiting the colour palette to a few key colours can produce an equally dramatic results. Avoid using too many colours.
  • Depending on your content, a maximum of 5-6 colours should be enough should be enough. Remember shades of a colour look like a different colour too. Check out Pinterest for inspiration on good colour combinations.
  • Can you break up some of your text with diagrams or pictures? Keep text concise. This is not an essay, it’s a poster. If a block of text is too long, consider turning a section into a point form list. Can some information work as a pull out box?
  • Check your spelling and grammar, and of course all your facts.
  • Here are some free image resources: 










  • Canva is a free online tool (up to a point) where you can produce basic graphics.



Ready to create your poster?

  • Download these guidelines.
  • Visit the poster category page for judging criteria and an entry form.

Toolkit: how to write an engaging pitch


Writing an engaging pitch is your opportunity to share your research with a non-academic audience. It needs to summarise your findings succinctly and be easy-to-read, accessible and convincing for those outside of the research community. 

The headline

  • Keep the headline short and snappy – anything above 10-12 words is getting too long.
  • Make your headline attention-grabbing and interesting while keeping it true to your findings. A good headline is crucial as it is the first thing people see – on average, 8 out of 10 people will read a headline but only 2 out of 10 will read the text below.
  • Make the most of punctuation in headlines by considering colons or question marks.
  • Think of key words that people will Google about your topic and try and use them in your headline. Use key words and phrases to communicate and have a look at political/media buzzwords currently in the field of your research. 

The pitch

  • Start with your key finding/insight and work down from there - outlining other important findings and the context of your research. Use key numbers if they help the argument.
  • Highlight why your research is relevant. Why should the wider public be interested in your findings? Why should they engage with it? How will your research make a difference to your target audience?
  • Use every day understandable language – how would you explain your findings to a friend? Don’t spend time defining your terms.
  • Be succinct - keep to the word limit of 250 words. 

Common errors to avoid

  • Copying and pasting your thesis introduction – you are writing this pitch for a non-academic audience and need to tailor it accordingly.
  • Using jargon or acronyms – some people won’t understand what they mean and may lose interest or feel alienated.
  • Including references - this is just a summary of your findings.
  • Using long flowery sentences – keep them short and clear. 


  • Take a look at the LSE Brexit Blog for some examples of blog posts that we know are read by a wide audience, and specifically by both policymakers and the media. Think of your pitch as a blog that you are writing to appeal to non-experts where every group who might have an interest in the research could have potential for engagement.
  • Visit our previous winners page (research abstracts).

Ready to write your pitch?

  • Download these guidelines, including two written pitch case studies that give examples of clear, convincing and concise research summaries.
  • Visit the written pitch category page for judging criteria and an entry form.

Contact us 

Email us at researchcompetition@lse.ac.uk if you have any questions.