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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Using Visual Aids

Using Visual Aids

Tips for Using Presentation Software Effectively

  1. State no more than three or four main points on a slide [slides that have too many words on them are a big turn-off]. Remember that the slides are intended to supplement and enhance what you are saying, not to replace it.
  2. Give your audience time to take notes. Pausing also gives you the opportunity to collect your thoughts before moving on to the next point.
  3. Don't read from the slides! Audiences really hate this. Summarize or explain what's on a slide. Only read quotes or statements when you want to emphasize something.
  4. Make sure your audience can see the screen. Think about where are you standing. Do not stand in front of the screen. If there is no angle where everyone can see, then move around before moving to the next slide [for example, point to something for emphasis].
  5. Don't overcrowd your slides with too much detail. Using color, pictures, and graphs can make your slides more interesting, but be aware of the fact that certain color combinations can be very hard to read from a distance.
  6. Remember that PowerPoint or Prezi may look great, but if the technology goes wrong, it's a good idea to print out a handout, or have some traditional overheads as a backup just in case. If the audience is too large to do this, ensure that your notes are sufficiently detailed so that you can talk in detail about your topic.
  7. I know you may be tempted to spend more time on producing graphics than on the actual talk but remember: if your talk is poor, no amount of fancy graphics will save it!

Text Guidelines for Presentation Slides

  • Use the same colors and fonts throughout; select graphic images in the same style
  • Keep the background consistent and subtle
  • Be sure text contrasts well with the background
  • Generally use no more than six words per a line
  • Generally use no more than six lines per a slide
  • Avoid long sentences unless it is a important quotation
  • Larger font indicates more important information
  • Font size generally ranges from 18 to 48 point
  • Fancy or cursive fonts can be hard to read
  • Words in all capital letters are hard to read
  • Avoid abbreviations and acronyms
  • Limit punctuation marks


Handouts are a great idea if your audience isn't too big [you don't want to spend a lot of time distributing handouts]. Think about whether you want to distribute them before or after your presentation. It is always good idea to include your references and contact information on a handout so that people can review them later or contact you if needed. You could also include some follow-up questions for discussion in your handouts.

Using the Whiteboard

If possible, put your contact information on the whiteboard before your talk begins, otherwise, you will have to turn your back on the audience and break your eye contact with them, which is never a good idea. Writing on a board is also time-consuming. Use alternative visual aids wherever possible. If you really must use a whiteboard, come prepared with the right pens [black or dark blue] and write in large, neat handwriting, so that people can read it.

Know the Space

Know the room from the front before you have to give your presentation. The front of a classroom feels different from the seats you are normally used to. Also, check the lighting so you avoid fiddling with the lights before your presentation.

Bedford, Erin. Preparing Presentations With PowerPoint. GradHacker Blog. Inside Higher Education; Kountouzi, Barbara. PowerPoint DO's and DON'T's. Biomedical Library. University of Pennsylvania; Creating and Using Overheads. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Designing an Effective PowerPoint Presentation: Quick Guide. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Giving an Oral Presentation. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.