by Jennie Ruby
This week a number of our readers have joined me in finding some good uses for lists and bullet points. However, that does not mean they reject Tufte's criticisms of bullet overkill (pardon the pun) in PowerPoint use.
For example, Josie Chaney writes:
I agree with you whole-heartedly. I think Tufte is ananachronism. I do however agree with him regarding avoiding the "rollout" of information on each slide; I do think it's too controlling and that there's benefit to allowing the audience to "read ahead" in their attempt to understand and relate bits of info together. I also don't like the repetition of information much; I've seen whole presentations which seem just to repeat buzz-word bullet points and leave crucial questions unanswered. I think if presenters/editors were focusing on answering one or two key questions per slide, while trimming redundancy, it would become clearer whether the presentation provides all the audience needs or expects.
Skills & Drills reader Melanie Scott agrees:
I think Tufte may have over-generalized his hatred of bullets and/or the learning community may have over-applied it. I haven't seen the whole presentation, but it sounds like Tufte is saying that in training and presentation content the right number of items in a list is zero but not that bullet points are all bad.
She also says,
It sounds to me that Tufte is really railing against those presenters who create bland, all-bullet content (or word-for-word presentations) using graphics [that] are boring, unreadable and sometimes meaningless and who use canned backgrounds which have nothing to do with the presentation. [He is also railing against presenters] who think that they must read every word on the slide (or make the class read them), and that is all they do. (This is what many of us were trained to do, me included. We have to learn to do better and lead by example). Tufte's focus is the presentation of information, not the absolute eradication of bullets and lists in all areas.
Scott goes on to specify some times when bullets can be used without contradicting Tufte's caution about using them as content:
There are times you need to list things-as Jennie mentions, objectives, steps, etc. Objectives aren't content, they're introductory... a "here is what we want to accomplish" message. Checklists and process steps are not always necessary in the [content of] training. Sometimes they should be part of the resource material.
Nevertheless, Scott sees ways to avoid bullet lists on slides even when presenting step-by-step training:
Steps can be taught without bulleted lists-one slide per step in order, with specific instructions on why it is first/second/third, which also allows for effective use of images to highlight the step.
Scott sums up what a number of readers thought:
I think Tufte's biggest point is this: when presenting any kind of information (print, training, eLearning, etc), we should consider all the possibilities, with our audience in mind, and use the methods which present the information in the clearest, most concise manner. According to research, adult learners need training/learning experiences to include experiential components, which allow them to think and apply what is presented. Bad charts/graphs/visual, presentations and bullets don't do that.
We have more on the use of lists and bullets for next week, so it is not too late to weigh in. If you have particularly good--or particularly bad--example lists, I would love to hear from you.
About the Author: Jennie Ruby is a veteran IconLogic trainer and author with titles such as "Editing with Word 2003 and Acrobat 7" and "Editing with MS Word 2007" to her credit. She is a publishing professional with more than 20 years of experience in writing, editing and desktop publishing.