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Tufte's PowerPoint Paper

Favorite passage in Tufte's "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within"

Jason's List

  • Page 11: PowerPoint is not good at math and science; here at NASA, engineers are using a presentation tool that apparently makes it difficult to write scientific notation.
  • Page 14, 4th Paragraph: Replacing PowerPoint with Microsoft Word (or, better, a tool with non-proprietary universal formats) will make presentations and their audiences smarter.
  • Page 14, 4th Paragraph:  Of course full-screen projected images and videos are necessary; that is the one harmless use of PP.
  • Page 15, 5th Paragraph: Yet, in visual reasoning, art, typography, cartography, even sculpture, the quantity of detail is an issue completely separate from the difficulty of reading.
  • Page 24, 3rd Paragraph: What Graunt needs to do for his presentation at Harvard is simply to provide printed copies of his original table to everyone in the audience.
  • Page 26, 1st Paragraph: Unfortunately, PP slides on paper and computer screen replicate and intensify all the problems of the PP cognitive style. Such slides extend the reach of PP's proprietary closed-document format since PP capabilities are necessary to see the slides. The short-run convenience to presenters and long-run benefit to Microsoft come at an enormous cost to the content and the audience.
  • Page 26, 3rd Paragraph: makers should have the courtesy to write a real report (which might also be handed out at a meeting) and address their readers as serious people.
  • Page 27, 5th Paragraph: PowerPoint becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of PowerPoint makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
  • Page 29, 2nd Paragraph: PP competes only with itself: there are no incentives for a meaningful change in a monopoly product with an 86% gross profit margin...Only monopolies can blame consumers for poor performance.
  • Page 30, 4th Paragraph: Someday there will be a serious technical reporting tool better than a word-processor. This tool would combine a variety of page-layout templates (scientific formats uninfected by marketing communications outreach specialists); publication-quality tools for reporting statistical evidence in graphs and tables (designed by statisticians not commercial artists); mathematical notation (allowing NASA  engineers to use exponents); a scientific spellchecker and thesaurus; open-document non-proprietary formats; large-paper color printing of reports; and within-document editing of words and graphics. This tool design should be driven by the necessities of evidence  display , not pitching.
  • Page 30, 5th Paragraph: There is also a chance that the act of writing sentences and preparing a technical report will make for a smarter report, an opportunity unavailable to those preparing PP slides.
  • Page 30, Last Paragraph: Serious presentations might well begin with a concise briefing paper or technical report (the 4-pager) that everyone reads (people can read 3 or 4 times faster than presenters can talk). Following the reading period, the presenter might provide a guided analysis of the briefing paper and then encourage and perhaps lead a discussion of the material at hand.

Andrew's list


  • Page 4, 3rd paragraph:  "… foreshortening of evidence and thought, low spatial resolution, an intensely hierarchical single-path structure as the model for organizing every type of content, breaking up narratives and data into slides and minimal fragments … chartjunk … Phluff … logotypes … preoccupation with format … turns information into a sales pitch"
  • Page 5, 2nd paragraph: " … which create the impression that data graphics are for propaganda and advertisements"
  • Page 6, 3rd paragraph: " It is helpful to provide audience members with at least one mode of information that allows them to control the order and pace of learning"
  • Page 7, 1st paragraph: "The metaphor of PowerPoint is the software corporation itself … a big bureaucracy engaged in computer programming … and in marketing"
  • Page 11, last paragraph: "Technical articles are not published in PP; why then should PP be used for serious technical analysis"
  • Page 12, 1st paragraph: "How is it that each … always fits exactly on one slide?"
  • Page 15, 4th paragraph: "A vicious circle results.  Thin content leads to boring presentations.  To make them unboring, PP Phluff is added, damaging the content, making the presentation even more boring …"
  • Page 16, 3rd paragraph: "It is unwise and arrogant to replace the sentence as the basic unit for explaining something." [referring to improper use of bullets]
  • Page 17, 2nd paragraph: "It follows that more complex and realistic multivariate causal models are way over the head of the simplistic bullet-list format".  
    • In other words, sometimes a flowchart is more appropriate than a bullet list.
  • Page 26, last paragraph: "The PP slide format has the worst signal/noise ratio of any known method of communication on paper or computer screen."  
    • True, but not necessarily bad.  The purpose of slides is to outline the presentation and allow the speaker to explain the details.  If you want greater information density, why not write a book and skip the presentation altogether?
  • Page 29, 1st paragraph: "These self-parodying elaborations have made each new release different from the previous - bot not smarter."
  • Page 30, 4th paragraph: "Someday there will be a serious technical reporting too better than a word-processor …"  
    • Sounds like a user-friendly LaTeX editor.
  • Page 30, 5th paragraph: "There is also a chance that the act of writing sentences and preparing a technical report will make for a smarter report"
  • Other thoughts:

    • I think Tufte bashes bullet points excessively.  Bullets may be abused frequently, but they are not inherently bad.
    • I think there is a difference between a technical report and a presentation, the tools and format need not be the same for both.
    • Giving the audience the full report or Tufte's "4-pager" assumes that they will take the time to carefully read it and be able to understand it.  Using slides allows you to convey the main points to a heterogenous audience without getting bogged down in details.


    Elliot's List

    • "But formats, sequencing, and cognitive approach should be decided by the character of the content and what is to be explained, not by the limitations of the presentation technology." pg 6
    • "THE metaphor of PowerPoint is the software corporation itself." pg 7
    • "A BETTER metaphor for presentations is good teaching." pg 7
    • "PP demands a shorthand of acronyms, phrase fragments, clipped jargon, and vague pronoun references in order to get at least some information into the tight format." pg 10
    • "How is it that each elaborate architecture of thought always fits exactly on one slide?" pg 12
    • "Both the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and the Return to Flight Task Group were filled with smart experienced people with spectacular credentials. These review boards examined what is probably the best evidence available on PP for technical work: hundreds of PP decks from a high-IQ government agency thoroughly practiced in PP. Both review boards concluded that (1) PowerPoint is an inappropriate tool for engineering reports, presentations, documentation and (2) the technical report is superior to PP. Matched up against alternative tools, PowerPoint lost." pg 14
    • "Yet in visual reasoning, art, typography, cartography, even sculpture, the quantity of detail is an issue completely separate from the difficulty of reading. Indeed, quite often, the more intense the detail, the greater the clarity and understanding - because meaning and reasoning are relentlessly contextual. Less is a bore." pg 15
    • "Bullets leave critical relationships unspecified" pg 16
    • "In Graunt's table, 1,719,585 pairwise comparisons, of varying relevance to be sure, are within the eyespan of the inquiring mind. In contrast, the 155 tiny tables on 155 PP slides would offer only 10,230 pairwise comparisons, about 6 in 1,000 of those available in Graunt's original table." pg 24
    • "The PP slide format has the worst signal/noise ratio of any known method of communication on paper or computer screen." pg 26
    • "There is also a chance that the act of writing sentences and preparing a technical report will make for a smarter report" pg 30


    Mont's List (note: no bullets :-)


    A better metaphor for presentation is good teaching.

    Serious problems require a serious tool: written reports.

    A good model for the technical report is a scientific paper or commentary on a paper published in substantial scientific journals such as Nature or Science.

    Every visual element in the graphic shows data.

    The templates do, however, emulate the format of reading primers for 6 year-olds.

    For Tables the idea is to make comparisons.

    This short-run convenience to presenters and long-run benefit to Microsoft comes at an enormous cost to the content and to the audience.

    The PP slide format has the worst signal/noise ratio of any known method of communication on paper or computer screen.

    Sentences are smarter than the grunts of bullet points.

    At a minimum we should choose presentation tools that do no harm to content.

    Colin's List

    1) Page 4, Paragraph 2 "PowerPoint is presenter-oriented, not content-oriented, not audience-oriented
    2) Pg 5, Para 3 "Many true statements are too long to fit on a PP slide, but this does not mean we should abbreviate the truth to make the words fit."
    3) Pg 13, Para 1 "The Board makes an explicit comparison: some tools are better than others for engineering, and technical reports are better than PowerPoint."
    4) Pg 14, Para 1, "For a sucessful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." -Richard Feynman
    5) Pg 14, para 4, "For nearly all engineering and scientific communication, instead of PowerPoint, the presentation and reporting software should be a word-processing program capable of capturing, editing, and publishing text, tables, data graphics, images, and scientific notation."
    6) Pg 16, Para 3, "It is unwise and arrogant to replace the sentence as the basic unit for explaining something."
    7) Pg 16, Para 4 "But in the reality of day-to-day practice, the PP cognitive style is faux-analytical, with a bias towards promoting effects without causes."
    8) Pg 24, Para 1 " That attitude- what counts are power and pitches, not truth and evidence- also lurks within PowerPoint."
    9) Pg 29, Para 3 "A better cognitive style for presentations is needed, a style that respects, encourages, and cooperates with evidence and thought."
    10) Pg 30, Para 5 "That one piece of paper shows the content-equivalent of 50 to 250 typical PP slides."





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