From the Research Files, January 2010

Happy 2010, everyone!

I thought we’d start 2010 with a look at some articles I’ve read recently. Here’s the first one!

Gross, Alan G. and Joseph E. Harmon. 2009. “The Structure of PowerPoint Presentations: The Art of Grasping Things Whole.” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 52(2): 121-137. DOI: 10.1109/TPC.2009.2020889.

Gross and Harmon examine two presentations through Jean-Luc Doumont’s design guidelines (1) to explore their organizational structures and their effectiveness. One presentation is for a general audience, and it employs a “narrative” structure; the other is for a professional audience and it employs an “argument” structure, “…driven by the need for professionals to make and to support claims of new knowledge” (p. 121). Both presentations discuss the volcanic activity around Mount St. Helens in Washington state.

Take-Away Points:

  • A reminder to AVOID text-filled slides: “The audience is placed between the rock of listening to the presenter and the hard place of deciphering the slide. This puts the communicative burden on the audience, rather than on the presenter” (p. 123).
  • Use Doumont’s guidelines:
    • Adapt to your audience: Think about what THEY want/need from your presentation).
    • Maximize signal-to-noise ratio (SNR): Remove unnecessary graphics, text, images, etc. from your presentation.
    • Use effective redundancy: Use an “agenda” or “key points” slide at the beginning and end of your presentation to remind your audience of the main points/structure of your talk.
  • Use a narrative or “story” structure for presentations to general audiences; employ the argument structure (lay out the assertions, describe/present the evidence) for expert audiences.

(1) Doumont, Jean-Luc. 2005. “The cognitive style of PowerPoint: Slides are not all evil.” Technical Communication, 52(1):64-70.

Peace out,



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