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Visual Display of Quantitative Information
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Edward Tufte one-day course,
Presenting Data and Information
Boston MA, October 23, 24, 25
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San Jose CA, December 8
I am sure you have read the paper entitled something like "The Magical Number Seven, Give or Take Two." That paper addressed limitations of short term memory. Having just attended your course in Houston, where I heard your comments about the number of links on various websites, I wonder what you think about the number of items to include on (gasp!) a single slide during a presentation.
-- Chuck Jenkins (email)
Shortly after taking Dr.Tufte's seminar in 1998 in Austin, I had to present a six project research program to the executive committee of an industry association. Prior to that seminar, I would have prepared a vugraph of each project, but instead, I prepared one handout with six small, identically formatted tables in two columns of three tables each. Each individual table had three columns, with the first and second columns having 7 rows. The first column contained the titles (project priority, duration, prior costs, current budget, etc.) and the second the related figures. The third column was one cell containing a short project description and its benefits, hence I was presenting 48 parameters about the research program, 8 for each project. I prepared the tables in MS Word using Times Roman 8 pitch and pasted them into a PowerPoint slide.
While I projected the slide, I used it only to identify to the audience (about 40 people) which project was under discussion, then referenced each small table on the handout of the slide during the discussion of each project.
By displaying the entire program on a one page handout and using a common format for each of the projects in the program, I was able to allow the audience to view the entire program at once and facilitated their ability to make comparisons among all the projects as they were discussed.
After 20 years of making corporate "5 bullet vugraph" presentations, this was the first time that people actually approached me after the meeting to compliment me on my presentation materials.
I have since tried to use handouts instead of slides whenever possible, and I have not hesitated to make "data-dense" vugraphs that required reference to a handout to understand the information being presented, when slides were required.
-- Jim Heimer (email)
If the limit of short term memory is 7 +/- 2, wouldn't that be a reason to have *more* pieces of information on the same page?
If everything is visible on a single page, it doesn't need to be in short term memory.
It is only when you break things up into multiple pages that the reader's memory becomes a factor.
-- David Person (email)
A word of caution. Although we can generally hold around 7 items in memory, those items are not necessarily recalled equally well or equally easily.
For example, there are the "primacy" and "recency" effects: we tend to remember the first and last item in a list better and more easily than the ones in the middle. Thus, it pays to put your most important point early.
-- Zen Faulkes (email)
The best number of items to include on a slide during a presentation? Zero. Turn off the computer and give an engaging presentation, using handouts if necessary for data display.
-- Ryan (email)