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A practical guide to presentations

Text & images

A look at designing and delivering presentations, in person and online.

Most of what you put on a slide will be text or images. On this page we take a proper look at both, starting with the principles of text, and how to add non-placeholder content. Then we look a bit more at slide backgrounds, before taking on the topic of images more generally, including where to find them. We also consider diagrams and charts.

Text

Chances are you're going to need some text on your slides. Let's take a look at what's involved.

Font choice

There are four main font categories:

Serif fonts, with their traditional, formal overtones, are often used in print. They're typically avoided in online contexts because display resolutions have historically not really been up to displaying them with sufficient clarity to be properly accessible.

Sans-serif fonts like the ones we usually use on these pages are considered more modern and less formal, and their relative simplicity means that they display better in digital media (like a web page or a PowerPoint slide). You should generally favour fonts like these in your slides.

Cursive fonts mimic handwriting. Some look like wedding invitations and aren't very readable at all. Some, like Comic Sans, are designed to be accessible for children, but that carries negative connotations in other uses.

Then there's decorative fonts. Informal; fun; good for accents. But you wouldn't want a whole presentation like this.

In terms of font selection, University-managed computers have a broad range of fonts. If you're on your own computer and want a better variety of fonts, there are a number of free fonts available online. We got the fancy font above ("Audiowide") from Google Fonts, and there's also Font Squirrel. As always, use caution if downloading fonts from unfamiliar sites.


Font size

As any optician's chart will demonstrate, size of font is important.This is 24pt and you probably wouldn't want to go much smaller than that on a slide (though it depends on where you're presenting and the size of the screen) — if you're struggling to fit things on at that size, maybe you're trying to squeeze too much into one slide?

Adding text to a slide

As we've already seen, the convention with slides is to add text to a placeholder on a pre-configured layout. But further text can be added to a slide using text boxes or shapes.


Text boxes

Text boxes can be inserted via:

PowerPoint

Insert > Text > Text Box

Google Slides

Insert > Text box


In PowerPoint, adjusting the width of a text box will cause the height to automatically adjust to match the length of the text content.

What was a tidy 14:9 rectangle is now cinemascope: shorter and wider than before
Text boxes in PowerPoint re-size to match the text length

In Google Slides, the text will overspill the bottom of the text box if it exceeds the current height.


Shapes

Any shape can be used to hold text. The size will remain as set, and text will overspill if too long for the shape to contain.

You can add more text to a shape and it will stay the same size. The text may over-spill the shape if there's more than can be accommodated.
Shapes retain their size regardless of the content, which can be handy for more-heavily designed slides

Shapes can be found at:

PowerPoint

Insert > Illustrations > Shapes

Google Slides

Insert > Shape


There's several shapes to choose from. With more complicated shapes, you may find the margins restrictive, and it may sometimes be easier to overlay a transparent rectangle to accommodate text.

Having selected the shape you want, drag to draw it onto the page (hold shift to create a regular shape). Select the shape and you will be able to start typing into it.


WordArt

There is another form of text entry: WordArt. It can do some nice things (PowerPoint's WordArt can write in an arc; Google Slides' version is a lot more basic), but be careful: WordArt can easily end up looking a bit... well... naff.

Blue text with a red border, arranged in a gentle arc, with a reflection effect beneath.
WordArt can easily look a little bit 1990s, so use with care...

Configuring text


Changing text

The arrowed crosshair of a 'move' cursor selects a rectangle. The 'expansion' points around the rectangle show that it has been selected

Where you configure text depends largely on what you're wanting to achieve:

  • Global changes can be made to placeholders using the master slide, which is one of the reasons why it can be a good idea to use placeholders.
  • You can configure all of the text within a specific placeholder, text box, or shape, by selecting the entire object. The easiest way to do that (especially if the object has no background fill) is to click the object's border. It's quite a narrow target to hit so it may take a few attempts before you get the knack. Your cursor will turn to the "move" crosshair pointer as you hover over the selectable area, and once selected, the "expand" and "rotate" toggles will appear on the shape. You can now start formatting.
  • Highlighting a section of text will allow you to format that specific section on its own.

Paragraph attributes

PowerPoint

You can get more precise control of your paragraphs from the dialogue launcher toggle at the bottom-right-hand corner of the Home > Paragraph ribbon group (on a Mac, click on any text then go to the Format menu, then Paragraph...). Here you can configure settings such as line-spacing and paragraph-spacing:

The spacing options at the bottom of the Paragraph dialogue control the space between paragraphs and also the space between lines.

The "Multiple" option in the line-spacing settings lets you express line spacing fractionally, as a multiple of the default line space. 1 gives single line spacing; 2 gives double line spacing, etc. So in the example above, 1.2 means there's an extra 20% of space for each line.

Google Slides

In Google Slides, line-spacing options can be found at Format > Line spacing, with more advanced options in the "Custom spacing" dialogue at Format > Line spacing > Custom spacing

There you can set line-spacing as a multiple (where 1 = single line spacing, 2 = double line spacing etc., as per PowerPoint), and also calibrate paragraph spacing.


Text attributes

PowerPoint

You shouldn't have any problems setting the font, size etc, but for other attributes there's a dialogue launcher at the bottom-right-hand corner of the Home > Font ribbon group. In addition to providing more font control options, it also has a tab for setting up character spacing:

The 'Character Spacing' options allow for characters to be spaced by a defined number of points. Assume that a full character's worth of width corresponds to about half the font size, so 6pts of expansion for a 12pt font should stretch your text about twice as long as normal..

Google Slides

Google Slides doesn't have quite the same range of options for setting text attributes. Those it does have can be found at Format > Text

Text positioning

PowerPoint
Align Text controls vertical alignment

When you first create a shape containing text, the content will be centred; there will also be a margin around the text. These attributes can easily be changed using Home > Paragraph > Align Text. The More Options section of this Align Text menu will open the Format Shape side panel where there are further settings, including margin options. We'll look at those in more detail in the next section...

Google Slides

The alignment options in Google Slides can be found at Format > Align and indent

There are further options in the "Text fitting" section of the "Format options" side-panel which can be launched from Format > Format options — here you'll find margin options controlling indentation and padding within a shape or a text box. More of that sort of thing below:

Configuring text boxes and shapes

The text boxes and shapes used for text can be configured in various ways to help with presentation.


Shape Fill and Shape Outline

As with the background of the page itself, the background of a shape (its fill) can be a solid colour or graduated. In PowerPoint it can also be patterned or even a photograph or other image.

You can also set the transparency level of a fill, which allows some of the slide background to show through.

A shape's border — its outline — can be solid or patterned, and can be of different widths.


Once a shape has been drawn, its attributes can be changed from:

PowerPoint

...the Shape Format > Shape Styles ribbon group;

Google Slides

...the Formatting toolbar: Icons for: Fill colour, Border colour, Border weight, Dash


PowerPoint

When you select More Fill Colors... from the "Shape Fill" or "Shape Outline" dropdowns, you'll have the chance to set a precise colour (and transparency) using numerical values:

The Colors dialgoue includes a palette, numeric colour modeller, and transparency options
Google Slides

The "CUSTOM" colour options on the Format colour menu also include the option to set a precise colour and transparency, either by using sliders or a hexadecimal (hex) code.

The custom colour dialgoue includes a palette, hex entry (including alpha), and transparency options

Shape Effects

A number of special effects can be applied from:

PowerPoint

Shape Format > Shape Styles > Shape Effects

Google Slides

Format > Format options


Of these, the most commonly used with text boxes is the drop shadow.

Employed with care, it can appear to lift the shape slightly off the page:

This box uses fill and outline but does not have a drop-shadow.

This box uses fill and outline and also has a drop-shadow.

This box has fill and a drop-shadow but doesn't bother with an outline.


PowerPoint
  1. Select the shape first, then choose Shape Format > Shape Styles > Shape Effects > Shadow
  2. Usually the simplest Outer shadow will be suitable, but there are a few default options to choose from
  3. If you want to adjust the shadow, select Shape Format > Shape Styles > Shape Effects > Shadow > Shadow Options... — this will give a side panel for you to adjust the shadow.
Google Slides
  1. Select the shape first, then choose Format > Format options — the "Format options" side-panel will open;
  2. Open the Drop shadow section of the side-panel to reveal controls for setting the colour, opacity, direction, and blur of the shadow;

If the shape has no fill, the drop-shadow will be applied to the text.


Text Margins

When you first create a shape containing text, there will be a margin around the text so that it does not sit tight against the edges. All four margins can be changed independently if required.

This box has quite narrow margins. The text is right up against the sides. Sure, the box is longer than the text, so there's a bit of space to the bottom, and the text is left-aligned, so there's space to the right too, but potentially the text can go really very close to the edges.

This box has much bigger margins than the other box (four times the size). The wider margins mean there's a lot more blank space between the box border and the text itself.


PowerPoint
Margin controls can be found on the Format Shape side panel: Format Shape > Text Options > Textbox

The controls to set these margins are a little buried:

  1. Select the shape;
  2. Select Home > Paragraph > Align Text > More Options... to get to the "Text Box" settings in the "Format Shape" side-panel. You can also get to the "Format Shape" panel by right-clicking a shape and choosing Format Shape...
  3. The "Text Box" settings in the "Text Options" allow you to set the margins (along with various other features).
Google Slides
  1. Select the shape;
  2. Choose Format > Format options — the "Format options" side-panel will open;
  3. Open the Text fitting section of the side-panel to reveal controls for setting the indentation and padding (the shape's margins).

Textbox controls are rather straightforward for rectangular shapes. For other shapes you may find that the writing area is a little restrictive, even with margins set to zero. You may find it simpler to overlay a transparent rectangular shape to hold your text.

Reading order

When we look at a slide, we're likely to read its content from top left to bottom right. But that isn't a firm rule, and things like animation may complicate matters. In the case of assistive technology such as a screen reader, it can't make such sweeping assumptions as to the logical order of text on the page. It needs a bit of help to determine the reading order.

By default, the order in which you add objects to a slide determines their place in the reading order. If you're having the content of a slide read aloud to you (i.e. by assistive technology), or you're navigating the content of the slide using the 'Tab' key (keyboard navigation), the contents of the slide will be activated from the first-added item through to the last.

It's therefore important that the items on your slide are layered in an appropriate reading order (including any images with alt text).

PowerPoint

The easiest way to reorder content in PowerPoint is via the "Selection Pane" side-panel: Home > Select > Selection Pane...

The Selection Pane shows all the items on your slide in layer order: items higher up in the list appear over items lower down in the list, and will potentially overlap them.

But in terms of reading order, the list works from the bottom up: the item at the bottom of the page is read first, then the item above it, etc.

You can use the arrow toggles at the top right of the Selection Pane to reposition items in the list.

To test the reading order, use the 'Tab' key to cycle through the objects on your slide. Check that the order flows logically.

Google Slides

Google Slides doesn't have a Selection Pane. But you can still test reading order by using the 'Tab' key to cycle through the objects on your slide.

To reposition an item in the reading order, you'll need to use the options at Arrange > Order.

The more objects you've got on a slide, the more painful this process can be, so try to order things logically as you make your slides.

Backgrounds

There’s nothing wrong with designing on a plain white background, but if you intend to use colour or an image behind your content, you must make sure it doesn't make it more difficult to read.

Background principles

The main options for background are:

Solid colour

Graduated colour

Graduated colours

Image(s)


A background itself need not govern readability. Text can be presented in boxes with a different background style. Here's some examples of options for backgrounds and text:


Allowing the background or image to show through a text box risks making it more difficult to read. Both dark and light backgrounds could have text in a container with a light or white fill, aiding readability. However, a little transparency can sometimes work well for tying elements of your slide together.

Configuring backgrounds

If you're wanting to set the same background for every slide in your presentation, you should use the slide master.

For changes to individual slides you can set the background by going to:

PowerPoint

Design > Customize > Format Background

Google Slides

Slide > Change background


In both cases, the option can also be found on the right-click context menu when clicking on your slide's background.


Solid and graduated fills

Solid fill is simply a matter of picking the colour, but you can lighten it further by setting transparency.

For gradient fill, you have the option of setting:

  • the colour of each position on the gradient stops — you can also add and remove stops (for a simple gradient just use one at each end)
  • type, direction, angle and transparency.

PowerPoint
  1. Right-click select the background of your slide and choose Change background... — the "Background" dialogue will open;
  2. Select Gradient fill: you'll have a choice of different gradient options:
The colour for a gradient stop is set using the 'Color' option
Google Slides
  1. Right-click select the background of your slide and choose Change background... — the "Background" dialogue will open;
  2. Select the "Colour" drop-down and choose the Gradient tab at the top of the palette;
  3. Pick a standard gradient or choose "CUSTOM" to create your own:
The colour for a gradient stop is set using the 'Color' dropdown

Images

We've already looked at how effective the full-screen image method can be. The same approach could also be used to apply branded backgrounds.

PowerPoint
Format Background > Picture or texture fill > Picture source
  1. Right-click select the background of your slide and choose Format Background... — the "Format Background" side-panel will open;
  2. In the side-panel, select Picture or texture fill — a tasteful beige wood effect will appear on your slide, but don't worry: it won't be there for long;
  3. Go and find your image; if you've got it saved to your computer, choose the Insert... button on the "Picture source" section of the side-panel, then choose "From a File" and browse to the image you need. Alternatively, you could copy the image to your clipboard and then use the Clipboard button;
  4. The image can be made more transparent, and can be repositioned and scaled. The icons at the top of the side panel lead to further settings for applying artistic effects and colour correction, which can be useful for making a background less dominant:
Google Slides
  1. Right-click select the background of your slide and choose Change background... — the "Background" dialogue will open;
  2. Select Choose image: you'll have a choice of different import methods;
  3. Go and find your image; if you've got it saved to your computer, choose the UPLOAD button, then "BROWSE" or drag in the image you need. Alternatively, you could copy the image's web address to your clipboard and then use the BY URL method;
  4. Select Done to apply your new background.

Tip

Background images don't include alt-text. If your image contains something important (rather than merely decorative / reinforcing), insert it in its own right rather than as a background (we'll look at these principles more below).

Images

Apart from setting an image as a background, what other things can we do with images and charts?

In PowerPoint, the content placeholder is designed to aid the addition of tables, charts, images and other media. Alternatively, in both PowerPoint and Google Slides you can add the image/media directly to a slide.

Inserting an image

To insert an image...

PowerPoint
  1. From the content placeholder choose the Pictures icon, or to add directly select Insert > Images > Pictures. You can also drag images into PowerPoint, or paste them in from the clipboard;
  2. Once the image is on your slide, you can adjust it using the sizing handles and the controls on the Picture Format tab and the Format Picture side panel (Format Picture... on the right-click context menu);
  3. You'll also want to add some alt text to your picture:
    1. go to Picture Format > Accessibility > Alt Text (or right-click select and choose Edit Alt Text...) — the "Alt Text" side-panel will open;
    2. If the image is purely decorative, tick the "Mark as decorative" box, else enter an appropriate description.
Google Slides
  1. Select Insert > Image ‐ you'll be offered a choice of sources. You can also paste items in from the clipboard;
  2. Once the image is on your slide, you can adjust it using the sizing handles and the controls on the Format options side panel (Format > Format options).
  3. You'll also want to add some alt text to your picture:
    1. Right-click select and choose Alt text — the "Alt Text" dialogue will open;
    2. If the image is purely decorative, leave the fields blank or simply add a "Title"; otherwise enter an appropriate "Description".
Tip

An alt text description should not duplicate existing text on a slide. If you've already described the content of the image in the body text, you don't need to repeat that in the alt text; include only that which is necessary to give the same understanding of the slide to a person who can't see it. If nothing more needs to be added, don't add it.


Repositioning & resizing

Repositioning

Having inserted your image, you may need to drag it to a new position. Watch the mouse pointer shape: it shows four arrows at the tip when you can drag the image around.

For finer positioning, make sure the image is selected, and use the cursor keys.


Size adjustment options in PowerPoint

Resizing

When you add an image to a PowerPoint slide it will automatically be rendered at its 'actual' size (the size that is equivalent to the best quality that can be achieved), unless it is larger than the slide, in which case it will be resized down to fit. Google Slides usually does the same.

You should be able to drag by any of the four corner 'handles' to resize your image — don't use the side handles unless you really want to squash or stretch the image.

If the corner handle isn't maintaining the original proportions, you can force it to do so using the "Lock aspect ratio" setting at:

PowerPoint

Picture Format > Size > Size and Position (corner toggle)

Google Slides

Format > Format options > Size and rotation


In the same locations you'll find controls to set a precise size by enter the dimensions as numbers.

If you're increasing the size of the original image beyond its original limits, bear in mind that it will only be able to withstand so much enlargement without starting to look fuzzy and rubbish.

Cropping

To focus on what's important, it's a good idea to crop close in to the main subject of the picture, and you do this using the cropping tool:

PowerPoint

Select the image and choose Picture Format > Size > Crop

Google Slides

Select the image and choose the Crop icon on the icon bar, or select Crop image from the right-click context menu.


Using the handles on the edges, drag to indicate the image area you want to be visible:

Original image

Cyclists

Cropping

Use the cropping handles to hone in on the important stuff

Cropped & resized

Now we've got rid of the stuff at the edges that wasn't so important

Other transformations

Both programs include some basic image editing tools. PowerPoint's suite of tools is particularly impressive: in fact we often use PowerPoint for making quick tweaks or applying basic effects to an image for use somewhere other than PowerPoint.


Our cyclists have had their background removed. The wheels look a bit weird.

Transparency options

Both PowerPoint and Google Slides allow you to make an image semi-transparent:

PowerPoint

Select the image and choose Picture Format > Adjust > Transparency

Google Slides

There's a "Transparency" slider under the Adjustments section of the "Format options" side-panel.


PowerPoint

There are a couple of tools in PowerPoint which will let you make sections of your image transparent: a process called isolation.

You can find isolated images online (they're typically PNG format), and you can isolate images in dedicated graphics programs too, but PowerPoint has these basic options built in.

For simpler images or single-colour backgrounds, use Color > Set Transparent Color..., otherwise try Remove Background: you paint out the sections you don't want and they get removed (though the edges can be a bit blotchy).


Other adjustment settings

You can make corrections to the colour, contrast, and brightness of your image in both programs. PowerPoint also has a selection of Artistic Effects you can apply. Some of these effects can look a bit naff, but others are actually quite effective.


Picture effects

PowerPoint

The Picture Styles ribbon group has some pre-programmed effects such as shadows and borders. More of these effects (and further settings) can be found at Picture Format > Picture Styles > Picture Effects. You can also rotate or flip an image with the options in the Arrange group: sometimes a jaunty angle can make all the difference!

Google Slides

The Format options side-panel has further controls for adding shadows or reflections, while the icon ribbon has options for applying a border to an image. You can rotate an image with the Size and rotation options (or with the rotation handle).

Resolution & compression

When designing a slide, you should always bear in mind how that slide is going to be disseminated: for instance, will it be projected, shown on a big screen, or shown on a standard monitor? This will have implications for the sizes of image you should use in your presentation.

PowerPoint

The size of a slide in PowerPoint is measured in centimetres by default. The standard widescreen option clocks in at 33.867 x 19.05 cm, at an apparent resolution of 192 dpi (≈ 76 pixels per centimetre), giving an effective frame size equivalent to 2560 x 1440 pixels. This is higher than the resolution of the HD data projectors generally used on campus (which will deliver 1920 x 1080 pixels at best). However, also by default, PowerPoint preserves image data regardless of resizing, and can potentially upscale to 4K ultra HD (3840 × 2160 pixels).

Ok, that's a lot of numbers. What do they mean in practical terms?

If file-size is no object for you or your audience, then stop reading and just carry on as you were.

If, however, you're wanting to keep your file size down (either because you're running out of disc space or memory, or because you're planning on sharing your slides) there's certain things you can do:


Use the right sized images from the start

Don't use images that are bigger than you need: If you're projecting, you'll never need a picture taller than 1080 pixels; anything else is just wasted. If your image is only going to take up a quarter of the slide, it won't need to be taller than 540 pixels.


Compress your images

Picture Format > Adjust > Compress Pictures has a number of useful tools:

When you crop an image, PowerPoint keeps the cropped information, just in case you change your mind. Delete cropped areas of pictures will dump any bits of an image you've cropped out.

The Resolution options are a little confusing as they refer to the pixels per inch (ppi) measure of an image (and we're using centimetres by default). For projectors it suggests 150 ppi, while for sharing it suggests 96 ppi (note that options may be frozen out depending on the resolution of the original image). To put these values into some sort of context, a full-slide image at 150 ppi would be 2000 x 1125 pixels (more detail than the projectors can achieve) while at 96 ppi it would be 1280 x 720 pixels (still considered HD).

All this means that, so long as your image was of a sufficient resolution to start with, compressing it to 150 ppi should make no noticeable difference to your presentation, and compressing it to 96 ppi should still be of a higher quality than a standard definition television picture.

If you're sharing your slides you should definitely consider junking cropped areas and compressing to 96 ppi (you can always make a copy of your slides before doing this, and if your images look bad after compression, you can always use the undo button).


Considerations for streaming

If you're streaming your presentation (for example via a video conferencing tool like Zoom), the resolution of your images is not an immediate concern: your slides will be compressed by the streaming software you're using. However, the act of streaming requires a lot of your computer, so a smaller, less memory-intensive file may help in that regard.

Google Slides

The default size of a slide in Google Slides is 25.4 x 14.29 in centimetres, or 960 x 540 pixels (an apparent resolution of 95 dpi) — that's quarter the size of a high definition television picture (and slightly lower quality than a UK standard definition one). However, as with PowerPoint, Google Slides preserves image data regardless of resizing, and will upscale to meet the resolution of your display, so the slide size isn't actually that relevant for most uses.

Disc space isn't an issue for Google Slides, but Google Slides is a web application, so a more important consideration is bandwidth: the amount of data being uploaded or downloaded between Google's computers and yours. The smaller your image is in bytes (rather than pixels), the easier it will be to work with, and the less time it will take to load.


Use the right sized images from the start (no, really)

Unlike PowerPoint, Google Slides has no built-in image compression tools. Regardless of what you do to an image, the original image will always be used. You might have cropped the image, but Google Slides actually loads the full image and then crops it in the browser. And there's no way of deleting the cropped areas either (something to be especially aware of if you cropped a screenshot to get rid of something you didn't want people to see!).

All of this means that you're better off editing your images before you add them to your slide:

  • Get the dimensions right: if you're presenting in a classroom, you don't need an image that's more than 1080 pixels tall, and to be honest, even for full-screen online use, that's going to be fine. If your image is only going to take up a quarter of a slide then it won't need to be taller than 540 pixels.
  • Crop your image before adding it to your slide.

There are various tools for resizing and cropping images, including PowerPoint (although you may find that option a little perverse!). See the Image editing Skills Guide for more advice.


Considerations for streaming

If you're streaming your presentation (for example via a video conferencing tool like Zoom), bandwidth is going to be your main concern: to some extent you're effectively downloading and uploading the content of your slides at the same time, so the smaller your images (in terms of file size) the smoother your presentation should stream.

Sourcing images

Always bear in mind that published images are always subject to copyright law, so you can’t just use any image you want.

Fortunately, there are plenty of free-to-use images out there (for instance, we got a lot of the images on this page from Pixabay).

Some images are 'public domain' and don't require attribution (though it can still be nice to attribute, especially if you're giving references anyway). Others may require you to credit the author in a sufficiently prominent way.

For more information and advice, take a look at:

Diagrams & charts

Diagrams and charts constitute a special category of image. Since a lot of information may need to be conveyed in quite a simple design, it is especially important that such images are crisp and clear.

Diagrams and charts may be created in PowerPoint and Google Slides, or can be imported from other applications.

Importing from other applications

There are plenty of applications for creating diagrams and charts. Take a look at our Data visualisation Skills Guide for some suggestions.

When exporting from another application, there are two filetypes to consider:


PNG

Portable Network Graphics (.png) images have a better image quality than a JPG because they use lossless compression. Never use a JPG for a diagram unless you absolutely have to: it will not give crisp lines. But a PNG will. What's more, parts of a PNG image can be 'isolated': in other words, parts of the image can be transparent (or even semi-transparent) — something which has its uses for images generally, but can be especially useful with diagrams.

With a PNG, you'll need to ensure that your image has sufficient resolution for the size it's meant to be on paper.


SVG (PowerPoint only)

All the images we've looked at so far have been made up of pixels. But that's not the only type of digital image. Simple images and diagrams can also be created using vectors. These vector images are essentially made up from points, lines and curves using a set of geometric instructions. And because they're constructed from geometric instructions they have the advantage of being scalable to any size without distortion.

The most common vector files are Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg). These can be imported into PowerPoint, and can often even be converted to PowerPoint shapes, which can then be deconstructed, recoloured, etc, as well as resized without loss of quality (all that dots per inch stuff becomes irrelevant!). For this reason, SVG is by far the best filetype to use for comparatively simple diagrams.


Copying and pasting

Copying and pasting an image into PowerPoint or Google Slides is always an option, though pay attention to the quality of what gets pasted (before doing anything with the image. If you try a 'copy and paste' and it seems to work, make sure you also save the diagram in the other application so you can edit and re-insert it if necessary.

Importing from a spreadsheet

Spreadsheet applications can produce good quality charts and graphs — take a look at our Essential Spreadsheets guidance for more details. Charts in Google Sheets, for instance, can be downloaded as SVG or PNG files from the Download option on the three-dot menu (⋮).

By virtue of them being part of their respective suites of office tools, PowerPoint and Google Slides can also integrate directly with their spreadsheet counterparts, Excel and Google Sheets:

PowerPoint

There are essentially three ways by which you can paste an Excel chart into PowerPoint:

Paste optionDescriptionSize impact (kb)*
EmbedA copy of the chart and its underlying data are attached to your file: so your PowerPoint or whatever gets its own little spreadsheet bundled within it. The advantage is that wherever your file goes, the data goes with it. The disadvantage is the toll on filesize: the whole of the source spreadsheet will be embedded, not just the data feeding the chart.21
LinkThe pasted chart gets its data from your original spreadsheet. If you make changes to the data in your spreadsheet they will be reflected in the pasted chart. But if the file loses its connection to your spreadsheet (as it might if you forward it to someone) then the data won't update and can sometimes even disappear altogether.5
PicturePastes the chart as a raster image. Any interactivity is lost, and, since the image is of a set resolution, any attempt to make the image bigger will also make it look crumbier – because it's a raster image now.19
- Based on a 16-cell column-chart.
- Expect the size of your source spreadsheet to be added to the size of your destination file.
- More complicated charts will tend to have larger file-sizes.

Options for pasting appear on the right-click context menu, or from a dropdown that appears at the bottom right-hand corner of an item immediately after it's been pasted

If you are using the "Linked" option, any edits to the linked Excel file will automatically be reflected in the document. But a linked or embedded chart can also be edited from within PowerPoint:

  1. Select the chart, right-click and choose Edit Data (or go to Chart Design > Data > Edit Data) — there are sub-menu options to Edit Data using a mini-window in the document or to Edit Data in Excel;

  2. After making changes, simply close the spreadsheet window; with linked charts you can continue to work with both open.

Google Slides

A chart can be inserted into Google Slides from Insert > Chart > From Sheets or by simply copying and pasting. Either way, there are two options available:

  • Link to spreadsheet – inserts the chart as a raster image, but one which can be updated if the original data changes.
  • Paste unlinked – inserts the chart as a stand-alone raster image with no link to the original data.

In a rare example of Microsoft being more dynamic in its linking than Google, changes to linked data are not applied to the linked chart automatically (which can be something or a relief if you're presenting a chart and you don't want it changing mid-talk): instead, an update button appears in the chart, which you can click to apply the changes. The chart also includes controls for unlinking itself from the source file.

Options for updating and unlinking are in the top right of the linked chart. Update only appears when the source data is changed

Drawing features

The drawing tools in PowerPoint and Google Slides are great for diagrams and flowcharts, but make sure you make good use of the various sizing and alignment tools (under Shape Format in PowerPoint and Arrange in Google Slides):

  • ‘Smart’ guides show when objects line up or centre;
  • When selecting several objects (which you can do by dragging around them or by holding down the shift key), use the alignment controls to line things up or space them evenly;
  • Each new object you draw is placed on a 'layer' above any others, but with Bring Forward/To Front and Send Backward/To Back (under Arrange > Order in Google Slides) you can change the stacking order; (PowerPoint also has Home > Select > Selection Pane... (or Shape Format > Arrange > Selection Pane on a Mac) which makes re-ordering an awful lot easier;
  • The connection shapes (lines) are designed to latch on to specific anchor points on shapes, and the connections will remain even when you move shapes about:

Some basic principles apply:

  • drawings and diagrams are composed of shapes and lines, each being a separate object on the page (although these objects can be grouped to behave as one);
  • shapes can have a fill, which may be solid colour, graduated colour, an image, or a pattern, with varying degrees of transparency;
  • shapes may have an outline, which can be in a range of colours, thicknesses and patterns (e.g. dashed or dotted); lines consist entirely of this outline property;
  • shapes may contain text;
  • all objects have a stacking order – one in front of another – which you can change to get the result you want
  • any object can also have effects applied, including shadows and reflections.

To draw a shape or line:

  1. Choose:
    PowerPoint

    Insert > Illustrations > Shapes

    Google Slides

    Insert > Shape or Insert > Line

  2. In most cases, drag to draw the shape/line
  3. For lines with more complex shapes, you may need to click several times to place 'anchor' points, and double-click to finish.

Tip

Hold down shift while dragging to draw squares and circles rather than rectangles and ellipses;
For perfectly horizontal/vertical lines, hold down shift after you've started holding down the mouse button.


PowerPoint
SmartArt cycle diagram: Get up, Eat, Work, Eat, Bed, Sleep, Get up...

SmartArt

PowerPoint also includes a feature called SmartArt with which you can create different types of diagram from a gallery of options. The content is entered using a bulleted list, and colours etc are chosen from palettes.

It's quite flexible, but you need to choose the appearance carefully to ensure you preserve consistency with other content (and to help your design stand out).

Google Slides

The Diagram tool

Google Slides has a few templates for specific types of diagram. The look is not unlike PowerPoint's SmartArt, but there's a little more work to be done to populate them.

You can find the diagrams at Insert > Diagram — a side-panel will open with the available options.