Too Much Text on Those Slides

September 16, 2014

By Lynn Bartels

The use of PowerPoint or other types of presentation programs is a mainstay of college teaching today. Walk down the halls and look in the classrooms and you will see faculty talking along with a slide show. Last week, we had one of the largest groups registered for the Midweek Mentor session titled “How Can I Improve My PowerPoint Skills?”  Despite their widespread usage, PowerPoint slides are not always an audience favorite. One informal survey called the Latest Annoying PowerPoint Survey showed that people complain most about three things in PowerPoint presentations:

  1. Each of these problems can be improved by reducing the amount of text per slide.Presenters who read from their slides
  2. Text that is too small to read
  3. Using full sentences instead of bullet points

How much text should be included?

The 7 x 7 rule states that no slide should contain more than 7 lines of text and 7 words per line. The recommended word limit total varies widely from 6 to 40 words per slide. It may also help to present each bullet point individually.  Too much text on the slide at any one time creates information overload for the audience.  Students can’t simultaneously listen to you, take notes, and process the content. Reducing the amount of text per slide can also increase the need to take notes which has been shown to increase retention especially if the notes are taken in the students’ own words rather than transcribing them verbatim (Kiewra, 1989).

How can I reduce the number of words per slide?

To reduce the number of words per slide, you can do things like avoiding complete sentences and using accepted symbols (i.e., &, %) and abbreviations (e.g., IRS, EEOC).  Also, avoid full sentences. Your slides should serve as an outline that highlights the key points to make, not as a teleprompter.

How small is too small?

In general, the minimum font size should be at least 18 points. Any smaller and your audience may not be able to read the text. If your text size is less than 18 pt. and the audience may not be able to read it from the screen, consider using a handout instead.  It’s better to be safe than sorry in this situation.

What about images?

Consider using images instead of text.  As  Earnest (2007) stated “PowerPoint is a visual medium.  MSWord is textual. They serve different communication functions (p. 23).” Images can evoke a different type of response from your students.

Here are some places to find images to use on your slides:   Flickr, Pixabay ,,,, stock xchng, unsplash, Stock Vault, and MorgueFile. Most images on these sites are free.

No orphans allowed!

When your text runs on to another line and leaves one or two words on a single line, this is called an
orphan.     arrow  (WASTED SPACE)

Orphans eat up space and are visually displeasing.  Eliminate orphans to help maximize font size, reduce the total number of words per slide, and create a professional look.  Eliminating orphans is as easy as rewording the bullet-point, resizing the text box, or resizing the font.

Avoid the Void

After following the tips mentioned above, you should have some additional “free space” on your slides.  Do not let this space go to waste.  Use it to either resize your text box (creating larger text) or enhance your slide with visuals that complement the text.


Like so many other technology tools, PowerPoint is neither good nor bad. It depends on how it’s used and how it supports students’ learning in your discipline.  This blog briefly touched on some text-related guidelines.  There are many more topics/guidelines/tips out there for creating effective and professional PowerPoints.

What are your PowerPoint tips?


Additional Resources

Earnest, W. (2007). Save Our Slides:  PowerPoint Design that Works. Dubuque, IA:  Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.

Ten Secrets for Using PowerPoint Effectively,

PowerPoint Tips:  Design Keys for Classroom Presentations,

Kiewra K. A. (1989). A review of note-taking: The encoding-storage paradigm and beyond. Educational Psychology Review, 1, 147–172

Categories: All Categories, Students, Teachers, Classroom