Argonne National Laboratory

Guide to PowerPoint Presentations
“I'm a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they're interested in.” —Bill Gates

Slides can be powerful means for helping you communicate your message. They are visual tools, which mean they do not replace your entire presentation, rather they exist to aid your audience in understanding and visualizing your message(s).

The kinds of slides that are easiest for audiences to follow are those that are simple in their design and use limited amounts of text. Below is a summary of the core components you will include in your slide presentation.

Key Features

Slides are composed of the following key features: clear, concise headings, footers, main body of text, and graphic(s). A heading and footer belong on each slide within a presentation, whereas the presence of text and graphics can vary from slide to slide based on what information is needed to convey the message. When deciding which features to add to a slide, always keep in mind that white space is also needed to define the borders of your presentation and minimize clutter in your design.


Headings belong on the top of each slide. The font size of the heading should be larger than the main text, and the formatting for headings and subheadings should remain consistent from one slide to the next.

Some scientific writers advocate writing headings not as short 1–2 word phrases but rather long phrases or sentences that explicitly state the main message of the slide. These headings, supporters say, are more informative than the alternative. Examples of this long form approach can be found here.


Slides should include a page number within the footer so that audiences can refer back to specific slides during the Q&A session following the presentation. If you choose, you can also include within the footer an abbreviated name for your presentation, the venue name, and/or the date of your presenattion.

Main text

The general rule is that “less is more” when it comes to writing content for individual slides. Limit yourself to one message per slide and balance text with white space in a way that appears uncluttered and easy to read. If you feel you need to include a lot of text and/or images all on one slide, try using simple animations or transitions to control the way information appears on the screen. This will help you better direct your readers’ attention.


Wherever graphics can be used instead of words, choose graphics. But be selective in your choice. Never choose an image simply because it can be used to fill up empty space on a slide or is decorative. Rather, choose images that illustrate the point your trying to make. The resolution of images used in slide presentations does not have to be as high as those for posters, but always make sure that the images you use can be clearly seen when blown up on a projector.

Examples of Good and Bad PowerPoint Design


Example #1


This slide needs improvement because:

  1. The information provided is redundant. The states listed are already illustrated on the map.
  2. The map is too small; readers cannot see the details of the image easily.
  3. The map, although it is the focus of the slide, is not positioned in focus.

The following is a better approach:

Here the photo was enlarged and the map was repositioned to give it a more prominent position on the slide. In addition, the list of state names was removed.

Example #2


This slide needs improvement because:

  1. It has too much text and too little white space, making it a challenge for readers to read through and understand quickly.

The following is a better approach:

Here, the bulleted phrases were shortened and more space was created between each bulleted item. This makes the information on the slide much easier for the reader to digest.

Tips for Creating Slide Presentations

  • Use a minimum of 16-point font.
  • Use sans serif fonts like Arial, Calibri, or Helvetica. These fonts work better for posters and PowerPoints, while serif fonts are typically reserved for papers.
  • Use only simple transitions. More colorful transitions like swipes and flashing text are often distracting and should be avoided.
  • Avoid mixing low-contrast colors (for example, yellow text against a white background) because it often makes text and images hard to see.
  • Explore alternatives to PowerPoint, like Prezi and Keynote.