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Academic presentations: Slide design

Good practice in presentations including design and structure. Covers group and poster presentations

“Ideally, well designed slides can emphasize key points, show images too complex to explain in words, and reveal the organization of the presentation. Unfortunately, the usual design of a phrase headline supported by a bullet list seldom leads to achieving these ideals.”

Alley and Neeley (2005)

There has been a considerable research and much written about what is a well designed, effective slide. The main finding is that: A slide full of bullet points with a title that makes no immediate point is a poor slide.

This is a very hard lesson for people creating academic presentations who feel that a good slide has a simple title then a list of points about that title. Many students will only ever see presentations where the majority of slides use that format and many will only ever create presentations which use that slide format.

This page gives some advice on how to ensure you are not one of them!

Design slides like academic paragraphs

On our essay writing pages, we give advice on creating academic paragraphs using the PEE acronym (Point, Evidence, Explanation). This same structure can be used for good academic slides.


Visual representation of text below.


  • The Point of the slide should be made in the title, it should be a full sentence in a conversational style. So, instead of "Costumes" you may have "The costumes are well researched and authentic" or instead of "Language" you may have "Language is more than the spoken word".
  • The Evidence should be shown in the main body of the slide and where possible this should be visual rather than textual (although in some cases quotes or very simple lists can be used).
  • The Explanation should be spoken in the narration and this is where the detail of the presentation should be contained. In order that you can produce useful handouts, it is recommended that you record this in the Notes section of the PowerPoint (or other suitable software) file.

Making the evidence visual

PowerPoint is a visual medium; its purpose is to help an audience visualise what the speaker is saying. The purpose of a presentation should not be information transfer, it should be about enabling understanding and encouraging further action or research.

The best way to make your slides more visual is to use images and diagrams as the evidence to support or illustrate your main point (your slide title)

Here are a few examples:

Slide with only text made over to have strong visuals with a single text point

Slide with numerical information in text form made over to be a graph with a single text point

Slide with text only quote by Philip Pullman made over to have the quote alongside a picture of the author

Academic texts supporting these points

Alley, M and Neeley, K.A. (2005) Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides. Technical Communication 52(4) 417-426. Available at

Mayer, R.E. and Moreno, R. (2003) Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist 38(1) 43-52. Available at

Mayer R.E and Johnson, C.E. (2008) Revising the redundancy principle in multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(2). 380-386. Available online as an eJournal via the University Library.