PowerPoint Writing Guide
SEE-U Program
James Danoff-Burg (August 2002)

 The primary goal of an orally presented scientific report is to present a record of research work and to communicate ecological ideas inherent in that work in a short period of time. Usually oral presentations are created using PowerPoint and are around 15 minutes in length, so brevity and directness is essential. Try to only have about a slide for every 45 seconds or minute that you have to present. As a consequence, if you are presenting for 15 minutes, you should have between 15 and 20 slides.

The author should describe the procedures followed, the results obtained, and then place these results in perspective by relating them to existing knowledge and by interpreting their significance for future study. The following is a set of notes to help you produce well-structured, well-written PowerPoint reports (and hence, good grades!), and to help train you in the process of scientific writing that will be orally presented.

Format | Style | Intro | Methods | Results | Discussion | References | General Comments

  1. One of the most challenging components of writing a PPT presentation is the need to think modularly. Knowing what information goes where is essential.
  2. Use the following framework for your reports:  Title slide with author(s) name(s), Introduction slides (3-4), Materials and Methods slides (1-3), Results slides (3-6), Discussion and Conclusions including Error Analysis and Future Studies Slides (3-6), Reference Cited (if any - only include if you cited a specific paper or book in the presentation)
  3. Do not overload each slide with too much information. Write in bulleted format. If you have complete sentences on the slide, you are not writing correctly. Include no more than 3 or 4 bullets on a single slide and try to make all the points on a single slide relevant to a single specific point.
  4. Choose a single background for the entire presentation that is not too busy and distracting but visually engaging.
  5. PowerPoint is a fun program with many bells and whistles (animations, backgrounds, ability to layer text and images, etc.). Be creative, but do not include so many of these that it distracts your audience from your content.
  6. Use large enough font so that the projected presentation could be easily visible in the back of a large room. Usually this requires something greater than 32 point font. Also, don't use a font that is too ornate and therefore distracting. Simplicity in presentation, while still being visually engaging is key.
  7. When you write the slides, be certain that one logically leads into the next. Don't include the slides as self-contained, disconnected bits of information and images. Make certain that you know what your story is and tell it clearly.
Style & Content
  1. Avoid footnotes
  2. Write in the past tense
  3. Use a heading for each slide
  4. Underscore Latin genus and species names. Be certain to put the Genus name in upper case and the species name in lower case. For example: Homo sapiens
  5. Avoid long, complex statements - break these down into several subcomponents, each with a separate bulleted entry
  6. Check for excessive use of commas and conjunctions (“and”, “but”, “or”) - you can often split these points into several
  7. Avoid excessive use of nouns as adjectives
  8. Use positive statements and avoid non-committal statements (e.g. use “the data indicate...” rather than “the data could possibly suggest...”)
  9. Avoid non-informative abbreviations such as “etc.”, or “and so on”
  10. Reduce jargon to a minimum
  11. Avoid repeating facts and thoughts
  12. Be concise and succinct - don’t pad out your report with irrelevant data or discussion or images
  13. Above all, produce accurate, clear, and concise writing
  1. In this section state the nature of the problem, the aims and objectives of the study, and brief background information
  2. Provide the context for the study you will be presenting - why is what you are doing relevant to other scientific work? How does it relate to this other work?
  3. Include the justification and relevance of the study
  4. Try to answer the following questions:  why do the study?  what is the existing state of knowledge of this topic? (restrict background information to that which is pertinent to the research problem) what are the specific objectives?
  5. Clearly state the question that you sought to answer
Materials and Methods
  1. State the hypotheses you tested
  2. Include a description of the procedure you used that would enable a reader to duplicate the study to ensure repeatability
  3. This will include data collection techniques, the equipment used, the experimental design, characterization of the location of the study, and the methods used to record, summarize, and analyze data
  4. Minimize descriptions of well known procedures and use references where appropriate
  5. Use figures to explain experimental set-up where appropriate
  1. Start your results section with a text slide summarizing what it is that you found - in subsequent slides, you will present graphs with the data to back up the points that you make on this slide
  2. Summarize the data generated with tables, figures and descriptive text
  3. Do not include raw data
  4. Describe your data and the patterns, trends, and relationships observed
  5. Proceed from most general features of the data to more specific results
  6. Use graphics to display data in preference to tables whenever feasible
  7. Use clear, concise, descriptive titles and explanatory legends for tables and figures
  8. Ensure all axes of graphs are labeled and that units are identified in all tables and figures
  9. The results section should be free of interpretation of data
Discussion and Conclusions
  1. This section should include an interpretation and evaluation of the results
  2. Compare with other studies and draw conclusions based on your findings - refer back to the review material you presented in your introduction in this section as well
  3. Refer back to the original hypotheses you were testing
  4. Draw positive conclusions wherever possible
  5. Identify sources of error and any inadequacies of your techniques
  6. Speculate on the broader meanings of the conclusions drawn
  7. Address any future study that your research suggests
References Cited
  1. List all the references cited in the text and only the references you cited in your text - if you did not cite any references, you don't need a references slide
  2. Cite references in text by author(s) and date
  3. If there are three or more authors of a reference abbreviate by first author surname followed by “et al.”  (e.g. “Smith et al. (1995) state that...”)
  4. All references should be listed in full, alphabetically by first author in the Reference Cited section
  5. Be consistent with format
  6. Only use references pertinent to your study and your data
General Comments
  1. Use and evaluate all the data you report and do not be discouraged if your results differ from published studies or from what you expected - YOUR DATA DO NOT LIE, they may be inaccurate because of experimental design problems, but they do not lie
  2. Justify all tables and figures by discussing their content and labeling them clearly
  3. Be creative in your presentation of data, your analysis, and your interpretation of data - play around with different variations before completing your report
  4. Do not force conclusions from your data or fudge data by omitting that which does not support pre-conceived conclusions
  5. Make sure all calculations and analyses are relevant to the hypotheses you are testing and the overall objectives of the study
  6. Justify your ideas and conclusions with data, facts, and background literature and with sound reasoning
  7. Keep the different sections of the report discrete, i.e. methods in the methods section, results in the results section, and leave discussion and interpretation of those results for the discussion section
  8. Plan your writing:  organize your thoughts and data, and sketch the report before actually writing.  This will help maximize your time efficiency and lead to a concise, well structured report

All Materials Copyright © 2002 by J. Danoff-Burg.
All Rights Reserved.