Are there guidelines or best practices for adding references to a research PowerPoint presentation?

For example, should I put the full citation at the bottom of the slide?

Liu, J., Rinzler, A. G., Dai, H., Hafner, J. H., Bradley, R. K., Boul, P. J., Smalley, R. E. (1998). Fullerene Pipes. Science, 280(5367), 1253–1256.

If you have even a couple references, this slide starts to look really busy.

I've seen quite a few presentations with truncated references (just first author, journal, year), like so:

Liu, J., et al. Science (1998)

Is this shortened reference alright? It looks cleaner on the slide, but at the expense of the ease of the viewer locating a reference. Any other solutions? If it makes a difference, this would be for the engineering/science fields.

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    Option B is most common in my neck of the woods (electrical engineering), mainly for the reason you already gave: it looks "cleaner."
    – Mad Jack
    Jan 23, 2015 at 15:38
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    If you make your slides available for download, turn your short references into DOI links. Jan 23, 2015 at 19:54
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    This question is very close to that other question. Jan 23, 2015 at 21:41
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    The question is old, but honestly I am a bit shocked about the bad advice to include incomplete references to a slide. Excuses dealing with the beauty of the slides are inacceptable when it comes to proper references. In your example, writing "Science, 280(5367), 1253–1256." at least would allow to locate the source unambiguously. Jan 21, 2020 at 19:52
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    @Snij The point is not necessarily to provide a way for audience members to locate a paper. First of all, audiences may recognize the first author or be familiar with the paper based on the authors and year. No one could identify a paper in the format you gave, compared to the proposed style. Second It's easier to write down and remember a name than a string of numbers. Third, many journals don't even have page numbers anyway. Fourth it's much easier to perform a library search by author year journal than by issue. Fifth, what would you do with multiple references? Jan 21, 2020 at 22:06

5 Answers 5


I would strongly recommend against putting the full citation at the bottom of the slide. The problem is, when you are actually presenting, it will both a) make the slide look very busy as you note, and b) distract people away from the rest of the slide. Another problem is that few people will actually be able to copy down the citation (unless you linger on the slide for a very long time).

Truncated references deal with all of these problems, generally giving just enough information for a quickly scribbled note that will give the reader the ability to track down the cited paper with a little bit of work.

In addition, however, if you will be making the slides available for others to read at their leisure, there are two other good places to put references:

  1. A "bibliography" slide at the end, before or after where many put the funding/acknowledgements slide.
  2. In the "notes" field associated with the slide on which the truncated reference appears.

This is especially good when dealing with funding agencies, who like to pull slides out of your deck for presentation to their own higher-ups.

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    It's more useful if a reference appears right where it was used. By the time a Bilbliography slide comes along, it's too late -- no one will remember why they need to know the reference. I find including a last slide in the deck that I might refer to when answering questions (Not some silly slide that say "questions") has a whole bunch more utility than a bib slide. Dec 6, 2016 at 18:24
  • I am sorry to say, but this is terrible advice. Giving unambiguous references is way more important than anything you write. Jan 21, 2020 at 19:54

I generally agree with the sentiments already mentioned (that is, avoid putting full citations on individual slides; there is usually a better way to handle it). That said, I occasionally find myself wanting to do so for some reason, such as when I'm likely to reuse the presentation a year from now, and want to easily recall where the quoted information came from, or when I want to have the full citation available on the screen in case I'm asked about it during my presentation.

When this has been the case, I've often handled this by including a full citation, but I use a color that is very similar to the background color of the slide – perhaps a light gray if my background is white, for example – and make the font very small.

Here's an example, the slide on the left has a reference, while the slide on the right has the same reference in a more "subdued" color and smaller font:

enter image description here

This allows me to put the reference on the slide when I want to, but avoid having the reference be a distraction to the live audience.

  • As a footnote, if the slides are printed in using the "Pure Black and White" option, these footnotes become quite legible.
    – J.R.
    Jan 23, 2015 at 23:55
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    I don't think the small font would be legible in any sense after a color change -- same with the text below your Lorem Ipsum. If it can't be read, there's no reason to include it. Dec 6, 2016 at 18:21
  • @ScottS - I just had one such slide on display in my lecture two weeks ago, and needed the reference while lecturing. I could read it just fine. In any case, instructors can play around with the font sizes until they get the right mix of legibility and subtlety. These slides have been shrunk to fit in my answer.
    – J.R.
    Dec 6, 2016 at 18:55

My preferred way to do this is to put a short reference on the slide, perhaps not even a formatted citation (e.g. "Liu, et al. show that ..."), maybe use a numeric cite (e.g. "...[1]"), and then have a slide or two at the end listing your citations, in full form, as taken from the paper that the talk represents or will represent if the talk is discussing a work in progress. This moves the distracting stuff to the end of the talk and allows anyone who wants to go look up the citation to do so assuming you or the conference makes your slides available.

If you don't intend to make the slides available, then putting a short cite like your second example in a footnote on the slide where you first cite it is probably best. That's short enough to be remembered or jotted down by an audience member for later look up.

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    I think a numeric citation is really problematic in a talk, because it requires a listener to cross-reference across many minutes of time.
    – jakebeal
    Jan 24, 2015 at 4:18
  • Which is why I said "and" not "or". Also, I would generally only recommend to do it that way if "you or the conference makes your slides available".
    – Bill Barth
    Jan 24, 2015 at 14:34
  • Even if you make the slides available, I think that it decreases the availability of the information, because it means that a listener has to track the reference and chase it down in your slides later, rather than just jotting down "Mergen, 2003, HPC" as it pops up.
    – jakebeal
    Jan 24, 2015 at 15:22
  • So, @jakebeal, your OK with a bibliography at the end of the talk and a likely too short reference in the main slides, but not a single number? I don't get it. Either way, the audience has to look it up in your slides later. Which is worse, jotting down "Liu [1]" or "Liu, 2003, Science"? I suspect the audience member is going to have to look this up in your bibliography either way.
    – Bill Barth
    Jan 24, 2015 at 15:44
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    I find that from "Liu, 2003, Science" I can usually sufficiently identify the publication.
    – jakebeal
    Jan 24, 2015 at 17:31

Don't put a full citation on the slide. That's too busy and distracting. It will distract some members of the audience from your main message.

Personally, I recommend against putting citations on the slide at all, in most circumstances. Many people adopt a text-heavy style, where their presentations are full of text and bullet lists with text and text text wall-of-text. There's a lot of evidence that this is not good for comprehension.

Instead, try minimizing the amount of text on your slides. It takes more effort, but it can lead to much more effective communication style. Try to write less on your slides. Less is more.

Finally, remember the goal of a presentation. The purpose of a presentation is not to present every last detail of your work. Instead, the purpose of a presentation is to tell a story, a narrative, that conveys the main ideas and intuition and takeaways. Details belong in the technical paper. And citations are typically one of those things that belong in the technical paper. When you're preparing a presentation, you shouldn't try to "cover" everything in the technical paper. Instead, think of your presentation as a lecture where you teach people about some idea, or an advertisement to read the full paper.


Just to add perspective and context, D.W.’s approach is good for exactly what he asserts – “a live presentation to a group of folks that conveys the main ideas and intuition and takeaways”.

However, with more presentations being presented online via courses or other means, citations are imperative. In particular, where images or other media are being used. In order to responsibly address copyright and fair use, the presenter must give a reasonable citation on every slide where they use media that isn’t theirs.

The options J.R. offers are excellent ones for just this purpose – the aesthetics are attended to as well as the obligation to cite work used in a presentation that could possibly be distributed beyond the intended audience. While the most common presentation is still “live”, as we move forward into the uncharted territory of conventional tools – like Powerpoint – being accessed online, we will have to find better ways to protect the integrity of the media we use to support our efforts.


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