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Simplifying Complexity

Simplifying Complexity

Having established the ground rules of typography, we can now move on to content. Most slideshows are based on text rather than graphics. Although adding words to your slides is easy, having too much text added to them ruins a great many slideshows. If you’re using bullet points, a good rule of thumb is to start with a brief title at the top and then three to four bullet-pointed sentences of no more than eight words underneath (see Figure 4).

There’s an art to summarizing long texts into a few short sentences. Winston Churchill was a motivational speaker who managed to keep a country unified through years of bitter war, and he observed that short words are good, old words better, and short, old words best of all. With that in mind, concentrate on bullet points consisting of short, simple words that your audience can quickly assimilate. Buzzwords are never good because at best they’re redundant, and at worst they replace clarity with obfuscation. Technical and legal terms may have their place, but use them sparingly, and only when strictly necessary. Read and then re-read everything you add to each slide, looking to cut out words wherever possible. Bullet points needn’t be full sentences, so prepositions can often be left out. Descriptive terms can often be removed as well; when it’s important to quantify something, a percentage or statistic would be a much better way to get that point across.

Remember, the aim of a slideshow is to get across a series of brief points as succinctly and accessibly as possible. There may be situations where a slide containing a lengthy quote or a legal phrase is relevant, but generally extended pieces of text are best distributed by other means, such as PDF files.

Figure 4 Keep bullet points short and sweet—it’s easy to ruin slides by adding too many words!

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