Is there a comprehensive style guide aimed at academic slideshow-type talks? Googling has given me random style suggestions from various sources of dubious credibility. Most give obvious information, like opt for effective pictures over text. Most seem aimed at business presentations, so might compare the virtues of pie charts and bar graphs.

The issue that sent me finally looking for a style guide is looking for the best practices on "uncovering" information on a slide piecemeal. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, but I've never used a thoughtful decision process. I would appreciate suggestions about this in particular.

You can, of course, avoid "uncovering" just by putting the uncovered information on its own later slide. So related to uncovering, I'm also interested in ideas about when two pieces of information should be separated into different slides or when it is best to put them on the same slide.

If one exists, I'd like a reference made by an organization known for this sort of thing, e.g. something like AP, MLA, a university committee, or an discipline-specific academic organization. I'm also interested in the general thoughts of practicing academics, whose credibility will be clear from their experience and from upvoting of their answers.

  • Presumably you are interested in answers supported by a document or citation, not more "random style suggestions from various sources of dubious credibility"? In which case, you might add the reference-request tag, and edit your post to clarify what kind of answers you are and aren't interested in.
    – ff524
    Jan 2, 2015 at 2:56
  • @ff524: I've added a paragraph that I hope clarifies what I want. I don't want to over-qualify what I want, but it is hopefully clear that more business-oriented information is not what I'm looking for.
    – Barry
    Jan 2, 2015 at 3:04
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    best practices on "uncovering" information on a slide piecemeal — The only best practice I've ever heard for this is Don't.
    – JeffE
    Jan 2, 2015 at 15:55
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    @JeffE: If you mean try not to, then I probably agree. It is appropriate exceptions that I am interested in. If you mean it as a blanket rule, I think it is somewhat thoughtless. For instance, if you put in a joke, uncovering the punch line at the same time as the joke destroys the joke. I do think an occasional joke can be a worthy addition to a talk. For someone who studies the ethnography of humor, it is unavoidable. Since a talk is essentially "uncovering" information one slide at a time, I'll add in my post interest in knowing when information should be split into separate slides
    – Barry
    Jan 3, 2015 at 23:12
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    @Barry I read Jeff's statement as "don't do it, unless you have a pretty good reason for it; and even if you think you do, think about it twice". Too many presenters waste too much time playing with the presentations. (One of my pet peeves are the long animated transitions between slides).
    – Davidmh
    Feb 16, 2015 at 12:39

4 Answers 4


Edward Tufte is classic and well-recognized authority on scientific communication. His book, "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" is a wonderful guide for thinking about your visual communication (including slides). He also has a fierce critique of PowerPoint which serves as a good negative guide of pitfalls to avoid.


Hopefully you explored Michael Alley's site for the Assertion-Evidence approach (AE) to making slides. The concept involves a total re-think of slide layout and follows on earlier criticisms of bullet point-based presentations. Such presentations tend to be more key points for the speaker than conveying a message to the listener/observer. The AE improves on slide impact on the audience but at the same time puts the presenter under more pressure to provide a good account.

The site linked above contains examples and more which is easier to take in then the book by the author. The AE has also been tested in the class room and found to yield significant improvements. The basic idea is to head the slides with a conclusion and let the slide and the talk support this assertion with evidence. This is widely different from the common approach to have heading such as Introduction, Methods, Results, etc. which is just a form of table of content rather than substance.

So from the supporting evidence the AE is a better way to build a presentation but, it involves significantly more work on the part of a presenter than putting together bullet-point slides. Having tried the approach, I strongly endorse it but will just add that preparing such slides requires both care and time beyond a regular power-point template.


A book I found quite helpful is

Michael Alley, The Craft of Scientific Presentations

It centers around the assertion-evidence approach described in detail in Peter Jansson's answer.

Also see two nice short guides

Simon P. Jones, How to Give a good research talk

R. Geroch, Suggestions For Giving Talks

  • 1
    Could you please expand your answer on why you chose those books to bring in your answer? What pieces of information do they give to the person who is reading this question? What is interesting in them? Just posting names of books does not help so much...
    – enthu
    Feb 15, 2015 at 18:10

The topic of "uncovering" has been adressed in:

Doumont, Jean-luc. "Striptease." IEEE Professional Communication Society newsletter 43.5 (1999): 18.

Doumont has Stanford PhD in applied physics and understands the needs of presenters in technical fields. You can find an excellent talk on "Creating effective slides" by him on youtubbe, which I strongly recommend.

He also has a book on scientific communication, Trees, Maps, and Theorems, which I haven't yet read, but which has received a lot of positive reviews, see here, here, and here.

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