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Unformatted text preview: Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: the Assertion-Evidence Design 11/8/08 5:33 PM Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: The Assertion-Evidence Structure Assertion- Evidence Models Center for Disease Control Penn State (1) Penn State (2) Sikorsky Aircraft Simula Research Lab Virginia Tech Assertion- Evidence Templates PowerPoint 2003 PowerPoint 2007 Teaching Slides (2003) Criticism of Traditional Design Gomes, Wall Street Journal Parker, New Yorker Tufte, Wired Schwartz, New York Times Recently, much criticism has arisen about the design of slides created with Microsoft PowerPoint. This web page challenges PowerPoint's default design of a single word or short phrase headline supported by a bullet list. Rather than subscribing to Microsoft's topic- subtopic design for slides, this web page advocates an assertion- evidence structure, which is shown in Figure 1 and which serves presentations that have the purpose of informing and persuading audiences about technical content. This structure, which features a sentence - assertion headline supported by visual evidence, is documented in Chapter 4 of The Craft of Scientific Presentations, a November 2005 article in Technical Communication, and the presentation "Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides." Assertion- Evidence Design: Talks Doumont, IEEE - PCS Talk, 2007 (audio) Alley, USGS Talk, 2005 (video) Alley, SPIE Webinar, 2007 (pdf) Teaching Resources Assertion- Evidence Design: Research Geoscience Education (January 2007) Tech Comm (May 2006) Tech Comm (November 2005) FIE (October 2005) More Assertion- Evidence Models Clemson University Norwegian Inst. Air Research Penn State (3) Scandpower Petroleum University of Illinois US Geological Survey Figure 1. Example of a well designed slide [Zess and Thole, 2001]. Three key assumptions exist for using the assertion- evidence structure. The first is that slides are an appropriate visual aid for the presentation. Too often, slides are projected when no visual aid would better serve the presentation. Second, the success of the presentation hangs on the audience understanding the content. Finally, the primary purpose of the slides is to help the audience understand the content, rather than to provide talking points for the speaker. For a number of years, others have advocated an assertionevidence structure for slides in engineering and scientific presentations. These advocates include Larry Gottlieb Page 1 of 9 Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: the Assertion-Evidence Design 11/8/08 5:33 PM (Lawrence Livermore National Lab), Hugh Keedy (Vanderbilt), Bob Leedom (Northrop Grumman), Jean - luc Doumont ( Principiæ ), and Cliff Atkinson ( Sociable Media). In addition, instructors such as Rick Gilbert and his team of trainers at PowerSpeaking, Inc., have recently started teaching this slide structure. To make it easier for you to adopt this structure, this web page provides a special PowerPoint template that you can download to your computer and modify to communicate your content to your audience. Also, to provide you with models, this web- page presents several student and professional examples that follow this structure. Each year, more than 250 million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint produce trillions of presentation slides worldwide [Doumont, 2005]. Many of these presentation slides, which can be overhead transparencies or computer projections, are created by presenters in science and engineering. Because presentation slides reduce the personal connections between the presenter and audience, presenters have to be critical thinkers about when this medium is appropriate and when it is not [Alley, 2003]. Despite this decrease in personal connection, slides are still valuable in scientific and technical presentations, especially when the audience needs to see images or visual relationships to understand the content. Because of its dominant 95 percent of market share [Parker, 2001], Microsoft PowerPoint and its defaults have greatly affected the design of these presentation slides. For that reason, most slides that are shown in science and engineering presentations have short phrase headlines supported either by bullet lists or by bullet lists and images [Gaudelli et al., 2008]. In essence, this design calls for a topic- subtopic view of the content. Recently, harsh criticism of this design of presentation slides has surfaced in several popular publications: Schwartz, "The Level of Discourse Continues to Slide," New York Times ; Parker, "Absolute PowerPoint," New Yorker; Tufte, "PowerPoint Is Evil," Wired ; and Keller, "Is PowerPoint the Devil? " Chicago Tribune. A common theme in these articles is that the presentation slides that follow Microsoft PowerPoint's defaults oversimplify the subject matter, sometimes with Figure 2. Example of a well designed slide [Bruaset, 2007]. Figure 3. Example of a well designed slide [Marthinsen et al., 2004]. Page 2 of 9 Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: the Assertion-Evidence Design 11/8/08 5:33 PM Figure 3. Example of a well designed slide [Marthinsen et al., 2004]. serious consequences. For instance, in the official investigative report about the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, Yale professor Edward Tufte argues that traditional slides failed to characterize the risk that the ill - fated Columbia faced from its collision with debris at lift- off [Tufte, 2003b]. Another common theme of these articles is that the design quickly becomes monotonous for audiences, thus making it difficult to recall information. According to Larry Gottlieb, a presentation instructor at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one failing of traditional slides lies in the use of the phrase headlines that leaves unclear the purpose of the slide [Gottlieb, 2002]. Since the 1980s, Gottlieb [1984] and others [Keedy, 1982; Alley, 2003; Doumont, 2005; Atkinson, 2005; Leedom, 2005] have rejected phrase headlines and, instead, have advocated a short sentence headline that states the main assertion of the slide. Note that just having a headline in the form of a sentence is not enough. As Bob Leedom [2005] states, that sentence has to state the main message of the slide. In fact, one of the Space Shuttle Columbia slides that Tufte critiqued [2003b] had a sentence headline; the problem was that sentence did not at all capture the main assertion of the slide. Another failing of the traditional design of slides, according to Edward Tufte, is the reliance on bullet lists to provide cogent evidence for assertions [Tufte, 2003a]. As Shaw, Brown, and Bromiley [1998] point out in a Harvard Business Review article, bullets are "too generic," they "leave critical assumptions unstated," and they "leave critical relationships unspecified." Figure 4. Transformation of a teaching slide from the traditional design to the assertion - evidence design [Robertshaw, 2004]. Assertion-Evidence Slide Design: A Successful Alternative As mentioned, over the past two decades, several people have advocated a slide design that is distinctly different from what Microsoft PowerPoint promotes with its defaults. This alternative slide design features a succinct sentence headline that states the main assertion of the slide. That assertion is then supported by evidence presented in a visual manner. Presented in Figure 2 and Figure 3 are excellent examples of this design. Each headline states the principal assertion of Page 3 of 9 Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: the Assertion-Evidence Design the slide, and each slide body supports that assertion in a visual manner. In each slide body, words are incorporated, but only as needed. Bullet lists are not used. This assertion- evidence design, which was presented in a November 2005 article in Technical Communication [Alley and Neeley, 2005], addresses the two mentioned weaknesses of the traditional design: unclear main assertion and lack of connections in the evidence. In addition, this assertion- evidence design addresses many of the weak typography and layout defaults of Microsoft PowerPoint. For instance, the new design calls for specific stylistic, typographic, layout, and animation guidelines that have arisen from more than 150 critique sessions, run by Alley, of engineering and scientific presentations at universities, in industry, and at national laboratories. Given in Figure 3 is a contrast of a teaching slide that uses the traditional topic- subtopic design and this new assertion- evidence design. Several advantages exist to using this assertionevidence design [Alley and Neeley, 2005]. First, the assertion headline more readily orients the audience during the presentation to the purpose of each slide. Second, having a sentence headline allows the presenter to clearly emphasize the most important assertion of the slide by giving that assertion more typographical emphasis than it would receive in a bullet list within the body of a traditional slide. Third, according to Professor Stacy Gleixner [2006] who heads the NSF PRiME project for teaching materials science and who has converted the slides in that project to this design, "Following the design would improve my lectures even if the old slides were projected, because when I create a sentence headline, I think about what main assertion I want the students to remember from that slide. Just that act makes my lectures more focused." Visual evidence in the body of the slide also has major advantages over the traditional bullet list. According to Professor Richard Mayer's principles [2001] for multimedia design, audiences learn better from relevant images coupled with words than from words alone. Mayer, a well regarded cognitive researcher from the University of California at Santa Barbara, also asserts that multimedia is more effective when images are placed close to and presented 11/8/08 5:33 PM Figure 5. Comparison of test score of 71% for a slide with a traditional design, shown left, with a test score of 82% correct for the new assertion - evidence design on the right: statistical level of significance < 0.05. The test question, which was at the knowledge level of Bloom's taxonomy, asked the 200 students in each section to state how much of the world's resources the United States uses. Figure 6. Ratio of the test scores for the group that was taught from the assertion - evidence slides to the test scores of a similar- sized group that was taught with traditional slides [Alley et al., 2005]. Bars 1- 8 (light blue) represent significant increases, while bars 9- 19 (black) represent differences that were not significant. For these two 200student sections, the test scores on these identical questions increased from 71% to 80% (p < 0.001). These questions tested students at the knowledge and comprehension levels of Bloom's taxonomy. Page 4 of 9 Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: the Assertion-Evidence Design 11/8/08 5:33 PM simultaneously with corresponding text. The assertionevidence design that is advocated by this web page follows these two principles. Moreover, the requirement of a visual representation in the teaching slide design of this study addresses the major weakness of relying on bullet lists: not making clear the connections between details [Shaw et al., 1998]. As was shown in the transformed slide of Figure 5, the unclear relationships among the elements of the topicsubtopic slide (left) are clarified in the assertionevidence slide (right). Recent experimental tests have shown that the assertion- evidence slide design is superior to the traditional design at communicating technical information to an audience. Studies have shown that using the assertion- evidence design in the teaching slides of a large geoscience course led to statistically significant increases (p < 0.001) in the knowledge and comprehension levels of students of course material [Alley et al., 2005]. Those increases are especially evident when the information to be understood and retained lies in the sentence headline [Alley, et al. 2006]. Figure 6 shows an example of a transformation in a teaching slide that led to a statistically significant increase in test scores for a large introductory course in geoscience, and Figure 5 shows a comparison of the test scores from one intervention [Alley et al., 2005]. The testing occurred between historical sections having the same instructor, room, semester time slot, class size (200 students), and number of projected teaching slides. Several underlying assumptions exist for when the assertion- evidence design should be used. The first assumption is that slides are, in fact, the appropriate visual aid for the presentation. A common criticism of presentation slides is that the medium is used for presentations in which a different visual aid or, more commonly, no visual aid would be appropriate. A second underlying assumption is that the success of the presentation depends on the audience understanding the content. Generally, when engineers and scientists use this design, they receive more questions than if they had used the traditional topicsubtopic design. The reason is that the audience better understands the content. Yet a third underlying assumption for using the assertion- evidence design is that the slides are a visual aid for the audience rather Page 5 of 9 Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: the Assertion-Evidence Design 11/8/08 5:33 PM than a visual aid for the speaker. One allure of PowerPoint that critics cite is that it allows presenters to project their "talking points." The assertionevidence design, on the other hand, presents only the key assertions of the talk, forcing the speaker to know the content well enough that he or she can speak from the assertions and the supporting visual evidence. A key disadvantage to using this design is that the design requires more time on the part of the presenter than the traditional topic- subtopic design. Not only is more time required to create visual evidence, but more time is needed to craft a succinct sentence headline that states the main assertion of the slide. A second disadvantage is that the design is more challenging than the traditional topic- subtopic design. To create those sentence - assertion headlines, the presenter has to understand purpose and relative importance of details. Yet a third disadvantage is that because this design is so different from what commonly is projected in meeting rooms, classrooms, and professional conferences, a resistance sometimes arises from co - presenters and supervisors to try a different approach. Conclusion: Effects of Adoption of Alternative Slide Design Preliminary research suggests that if engineers, scientists, and technical professionals would adopt this assertion- evidence design for those presentations in which slides are the appropriate medium, the effectiveness of those presentations would increase significantly. Likewise, if educators of engineering and science would adopt this slide design for teaching situations in which presentation slides are an appropriate teaching tool, the comprehension and retention by students in those engineering and science courses would increase significantly, especially if this slide design is used with active learning measures [Alley et al., 2007]. What is needed are more such tests in different disciplines of science and engineering. Also needed are more tests at different levels of Bloom's taxonomy of learning. This assertion- evidence design demands much more from the presenter than simply following the defaults of PowerPoint. For one thing, identifying the main Page 6 of 9 Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: the Assertion-Evidence Design 11/8/08 5:33 PM sentence assertion of each slide requires more thinking than simply identifying the slide's topic word or phrase. In addition, coming up with cogent visual evidence to support each assertion is more demanding than coming up with a bullet list of subtopics for each slide topic. Another hurdle to adopting the design arises from overcoming the weak defaults of PowerPoint for type size, type placement, text anchors, bulleted text, and distracting backgrounds. To help presenters overcome these weak defaults, this web site this web page provides a PowerPoint template that presenters can download and modify. References Alley, Michael, The Craft of Scientific Presentations (New York: Springer- Verlag, 2003), chap 4. Alley, Michael, and Kathryn A. Neeley, "Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: A Case for Sentence Headlines and Visual Evidence," Technical Communication, vol. 52, no. 4 (November 2005), pp. 417 - 426. Alley, Michael, and Harry Robertshaw, "Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: The Importance of Writing Sentence Headlines," 2004 International Mechanical Engineering Conference and Exposition, paper 61827 (Anaheim, CA: ASME, November 2004). Alley, Michael, and Harry Robertshaw, "Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: Creating Slides That Are Readily Comprehended," 2004 International Mechanical Engineering Conference and Exposition, paper 61889 (Anaheim, CA: ASME, November 2004). Alley, Michael, Madeline Schreiber, and John Muffo, "Pilot Testing of a New Design of Presentation Slides to Teach Science and Engineering," 2005 Frontiers in Education Conference, paper 1213 (Indianapolis, IN: ASEE/IEEE, October 2005). Alley, Michael, Madeline Schreiber, Katrina Ramsdell, and John Muffo, "How the Design of Headlines in Presentation Slides Affects Audience Retention," Technical Communication, vol. 53, no. 2 (May 2006), pp. 225 - 234. Alley, Michael, Madeline Schreiber, Elizabeth Diesel, Katrina Ramsdell, and Maura Borrego, "Increased Learning and Attendance in Resources Geology through the Combination of Sentenceheadline Slides and Active Learning Measures," Journal of Geoscience Education, vol. 55, no. 1 (January 2007), pp. 85- 91. Aspmo, Katrine, Torunn Berg, and Grete Wibetoe, "Atmospheric Mercury Depletion Events (AMDEs) in Polar Regions During Arctic Spring," presentation (Oslo, Norway: University of Oslo, 16 June 2004). Atamturkur, Sezer, and Boothby, Thomas E. (2007). When can a historic masonry monument be left alone without repair ? Presentation. State College, PA: Pennsylvania State University. Page 7 of 9 Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: the Assertion-Evidence Design 11/8/08 5:33 PM Atkinson, Cliff, Beyond Bullet Points: How to Use Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire (Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press, 2005). Bekins, Barbara, "The Influence of Hydrogeology on 25 Years of Natural Attenuation at a Crude Oil Spill Site" (Menlo Park, CA: Water Resources Division of the United States Geological Survey, 20 May 2004). Bruaset, Are Magnus, and Sokalski, Tomasz (2004, June 18). Simulation of membrane potentials in ion selective electrodes. Presentation. Oslo, Norway: Simula Research Laboratory. Bruaset, Are Magnus (2007). By thinking constantly about it: Scientific computing at Simula. Presentation. Oslo, Norway: Simula Research Laboratory. Dibbern, Elizabeth M., F.J.J. Toublan, and K.S. Suslick, "Formation and Characterization of Polyglutamate Core - Shell Microspheres," Journal of American Chemical Society, vol. 128 (2006), pp. 6540- 6541. Diesel, Elizabeth, Alley, Michael, Madeline Schreiber, and Maura Borrego, "Improving Student Learning in Large Classes by Incorporating Active Learning with a New Design of Teaching Slides," 2006 Frontiers in Education Conference, paper 1289 (San Diego: ASEE/IEEE, October 2006). Doumont, Jean - luc, "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Not All Slides Are Evil," Technical Communication, vol. 52, no. 1 (February 2005), pp. 64- 70. Fishbone, S. (2008). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should require xenon headlights on all new cars. Presentation. State College, PA: CAS 100A for Engineers, Penn State. Fishel, S., Muth, Eric R., and Hoover, Adam. W. (2006, October). Physiological arousal and mental arithmetic performance: A complex relationship. Presentation. Clemson, SC: Clemson University. Gaudelli, A., Alley, M., Garner, J., and Zappe, S., "Analysis of PowerPoint Slides for Teaching Engineering and Documenting Engineering Projects: A Window to How Engineering Instructors and Students Are Using This Tool in the Classroom," 2009 National ASEE Conference and Exposition (Austin, TX: to be submitted). Gleixner, Stacy, Professor in Material Science and Engineering at San Jose State University, phone conversation with Michael Alley (22 March 2006). Gottlieb, Larry, "How I Leaped Almost Overnight from Traditional Tech Writer to Marcom Guy to Hybrid, in a Tad More Than Four Decades," Proceedings of the 49th Annual Conference for the Society of Technical Communication (Nashville, TN: Society for Technical Communication, 2002). Gottlieb, Larry, "New- Breed Presentationists Sometimes Closely Collaborate on Presentations," Proceedings of the 1984 Professional Communication Society Conference of the IEEE (Atlantic City, NJ: IEEE, October 10- 12, 1984). Holmås, Håvard. (2006, September 27). Pseudospectral numerical methods for modeling of waves in pipe flow. Presentation. Kjeller, Norway: Institute for Energy Technology. Jaffe, Greg, "What's Your Point, Lieutenant ? Please, Just Cut to the Pie Charts?" Wall Street Journal (26 April 2000), p. A - 1. Jonmaire, C. (2008). Comparison of standard concrete and long carbon - fiber concrete: SafeTcrete. Presentation. State College, PA: CAS 100A for Engineers, Penn State. Keedy, Hugh "PRO Visuals Can Improve Your Presentations," Sixth Annual Practical Conference on Communication Proceedings (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee, October 22- 23, 1982), pp. 1334. Page 8 of 9 Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: the Assertion-Evidence Design 11/8/08 5:33 PM Keller, Julia, "Is PowerPoint the Devil?" Chicago Tribune (23 January 2004). Leedom, Robert, Lockheed Corporation, e- mail correspondence with Michael Alley, 27 June 2005. Lynch, Stephen, and Karen Thole, "Aerodynamics and Heat Transfer for Airfoil - Endwall Junctures in Gas Turbine Engines," AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference, Air Breathing Propulsion Technical Committee Meeting (Sacramento, CA: American Institute for Aeronautics & Astronautics, 11 July 2006). Marthinsen, Gunnhild, Jan Lifjeld, and Liv Wennerberg, "Population Differentiation in Dunlins Caladris alpine in Northern Europe," presentation (Oslo, Norway: University of Oslo, 12 June 2004). Mayer, Richard E., Multimedia Learning (New York: Cambridge, 2001). Parker, Ian, "Absolute PowerPoint," The New Yorker (28 May 2001). Robertshaw, Harry, "Class Period 15: Signals and Systems," classroom presentation in ME 4005 (Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech, 16 March 2004). Schwartz, John, "The Level of Discourse Continues to Slide," The New York Times (28 September 2003). Shaw, Gordon, Robert Brown, and Philip Bromiley, "Strategic Stories: How 3M Is Rewriting Business Planning," Harvard Business Review (May–June 1998), pp. 41–50. Stelzer, M. (2004). Failure analysis of an ice detector in the Austria 13 helicopter. Presentation. Hartford, CT: Sikorsky Aircraft. Tufte, Edward R., "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint" (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 2003). Tufte, Edward R., "Engineering by Viewgraph," Columbia Accident Investigation Board, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Columbia Accident Investigation Board, 2003), p. 191. Tufte, Edward R., "PowerPoint Is Evil," Wired, (11 September 2003). Wald, Matthew J., and J. Schwartz, "Shuttle Inquiry Uncovers Flaws in Communication," The New York Times (14 August 2003). Wolfe, Christine, Alley, Michael, and Kate C. Sheridan, "Improving Retention of Information from Teaching Slides," 2006 Frontiers in Education Conference, paper 1363 (San Diego: ASEE/IEEE, October 2006). Zess, Gary, and Karen Thole, "Computational Design and Experimental Evaluation of Using a Leading Edge Fillet on a Gas Turbine Vane," Proceedings of the ASME Turbo Exposition, 2001- GT 404 (New Orleans: IGTI, 5 June 2001). Created 02/2004 Last updated 08/2008 Web page maintained by Michael Alley, Penn State Page 9 of 9 ...
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