TIPS – Composing Strategies for CDS-Style Digital Stories

The following tips and strategies apply specifically to CDS-Style digital stories created in video editing apps like iMovie and MovieMaker. For instructions on how to apply the effects described below, browse the archives for the relevant categories and tags. If you can’t find particular instructions on any of the existing handouts and would like for me to demonstrate, please let me know and I’ll make a short screencast.

Note: I’m still working on developing this handout and may end up breaking it across several parts, as I have a lot more to say about each element.


Pay attention to how long each photo remains on the screen. Don’t let any photo remain on the screen longer than about 30 seconds, as viewers will start to grow bored.


Don’t let Ken Burns direct your digital story! This is your video, so you take charge of how the photo effects work.

The Ken Burns effect is what makes photos zoom in and out or pan horizontally or vertically. It’s a nice way to create visual interest and “movement,” but use it sparingly and not on every photo. Also use a mix of panning (horizontal and vertical scrolling effect) and zooming (in or out).

Most importantly: never let a person’s face disappear off the screen! (Unless you have a rhetorical purpose for doing so)

The default in iMovie is to automatically apply the Ken Burns effect to all imported photos, but I recommend that you change your Project Properties before you drag in any photos so that the default is “Fit” instead. Then you can apply the Ken Burns effect to specific photos when there’s a clear rhetorical purpose for doing so.

Hover your mouse over the photo and click on the gear icon that appears. Then choose “Cropping, Ken Burns and Rotation” (or something like that). Use the green box to establish the portion of the photo that should be in view first and the red box to establish where the view should end. Click the play button to preview.

If the effect happens too fast, try reducing the difference in size or location between the green and red boxes. Or adjust the duration of the photo. The longer the duration, the slower the effect.


Take care with the transitions you use between photos. When you first start playing with apps like iMovie or MovieMaker, you’ll be tempted to use every transition available, just because they’re kind of fun. But when you start working on a version of your project intended for audiences other than yourself, think about the rhetorical purpose of transitions.

As a rule of thumb, don’t use a transition unless you can articulate a rhetorical rationale for it, like marking the transition from one “scene” or “act” to the next. (For major transitions, consider using a title card instead.)

The one exception might be using the “cross dissolve” transition between photos simply to soften the effect of moving from one to the next, as that transition is the most common and the least intrusive. The more noticeable a transition is, the less often you should use it, as it will distract viewers from your message — unless the transition itself is meant to contribute to the message.


Always use a title card near the beginning of any kind of video presentation, but the title card does not necessarily need to appear in the very first opening moments of the video. You could open with a short prologue first. But the title card should appear within what would count as the first 10% of the total time span of your project.

The title card should contain your own original title for the project that alerts readers to your topic and entices them to want to view your project. It should also contain your name (first name only or pseudonym is fine) as well as the date. It does not need to contain info about our class if you’d like to make a project that might continue working on beyond the scope of the class.

You can also use the “title card” tool to add bits of text anywhere in your digital story, either against a built-in colored background or against your own photo. The title card tool also has options for subtitles you can place on top of your own photos.


Always use a closing credits card at the end of any kind of audiovisual presentation, so viewers feel a sense of closure and so that you can give credit to the sources you drew on for material and/or inspiration. For music sources, list the title of the song, the album it came from, and the artist (although keep in mind that even this may not be enough to avoid violating copyright laws –YouTube will let you know if your video gets tagged for possible violation).

You can create a closing credits card (or cards) using the “title card” tool, but you don’t necessarily have to use the title card called “closing credits” (which has the credits scroll by vertically). If you do use that, adjust the duration as the default is probably too fast.


An effective CDS-Style digital story should have a strong sense of structure, just like effective communication in any medium. And that structure should be the end result of LOTS of planning and revising on your part.

Consider how a well organized paper is made up of “units of thought” in the form of sections, sub-sections, and paragraphs. Each paragraph plays a particular role within each sub-section, and each sub-section plays a particular role within each section.

Also consider how TV shows and movies are put together: in a series of “acts” (which are like sections) and “scenes” (which are like sub-sections or paragraphs).

In other words, effective messages are composed and designed; they’re not delivered in a haphazard or rambling style. That’s why you create a storyboard outline first, to make sure the digital story has a strong sense of structure, with each “act” and “scene” having a clear rhetorical purpose.

If you’ve already assembled a digital story that seems to lack structure, you may need to go back to the storyboarding step and work some more on planning before you assemble the next draft.