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Returning The Point To Powerpoint: Rethinking The Design Of Presentation Slides From A Skillful User’s Perspective

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Writing and Communication II

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1083.1 - 10.1083.16



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Paper Authors

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Michael Alley

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Kathryn Neeley

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2461

Discovering the Power of PowerPoint: Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides from a Skillful User’s Perspective

Michael Alley Kathryn A. Neeley Engineering Education Dept. School of Engineering & Applied Science Virginia Tech University of Virginia


Slides projected as overheads or by computers have become a conventional and dominant feature of engineering presentations in academia, business, and professional societies. The traditional format for presentation slides—a phrase headline supported by a bullet list—has recently come under harsh criticism. In this paper, we propose an alternative to the traditional design that can communicate engineering content more effectively. The alternative design relies on a succinct sentence headline supported by visual evidence. Its chief strength is that it aids the audience’s understanding of the engineering principles and arguments being presented, as opposed to the traditional phrase headline/bullet list design, which tends to function more as notes for the speaker. Although the alternative design offers several clear advantages in an engineering presentation, many engineering students and faculty strongly resist veering from the traditional format defaults of PowerPoint. This paper outlines the key features and advantages of the alternative design and explores the ways in which resistance to the alternative design can be seen as a measure of how embedded a particular way of using PowerPoint has become in engineering professional practice. Drawing upon student and faculty resistance to the design, this paper uses PowerPoint as a case study in the ways skillful users adapt tools such as PowerPoint to better accomplish their own goals rather than simply accepting the default approaches encouraged by the tool.


PowerPoint is used to make an estimated 20 to 30 million presentations every day and, depending on whose estimate you choose to accept, has between 250 and 400 million users around the globe (Goldstein 2003; Schwartz 2003; Simons March 2004; Zielinski 2003). The traditional form for PowerPoint slides is familiar, perhaps overly so, to engineering students and practitioners: a phrase headline supported by bulleted lists. In many if not most engineering contexts, the design templates and default slide layouts of PowerPoint have become standardized, and the name “PowerPoint” has become virtually synonymous with bulleted lists, “presentations,” and “professionalism.” In this paper we present an alternative design for

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Alley, M., & Neeley, K. (2005, June), Returning The Point To Powerpoint: Rethinking The Design Of Presentation Slides From A Skillful User’s Perspective Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14488

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