Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint® Presentations. Stephen M Kosslyn. New York: Oxford University Press; 2007. 222 pages. Paperback $16.95. ISBN: 978- 0-19-532069-5.
Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint®
Presentations. Stephen M Kosslyn. New York: Oxford University Press; 2007.
222 pages. Paperback $16.95. ISBN: 978-0-19-532069-5.

Anyone who works as a freelance understands the nature of intermittent assignments. My editing workload parallels the academic year, so I use summer downtime to continue my education in the sciences. Over the last year, I took microbiology and both semesters of general biology. My instructors all used Microsoft PowerPoint, which was not as prevalent when I started college in 1994. As I read Clear and to the Point, I reflected on how my instructors presented their information and in what ways their approaches meshed with those of author Stephen M Kosslyn.

Drawing not only on psychology but also on the tenets of practical design, Kosslyn delivers a structured and example-rich guide to creating function-driven PowerPoint slides. Chapters of Clear and to the Point address building presentations that work; text legibility; correct use of color, texture, animation, and sound; communicating through such elements as graphs, charts, diagrams, maps, photographs, and clip art; and finally, PowerPoint examples that Kosslyn classifies as good, bad, and incomprehensible. Kosslyn builds his book around three core goals, which he then elaborates on with underlying principles.

His first goal for the PowerPoint presenter is audience connection. Presenters must convey just the right amount of information, Kosslyn says, rather than overwhelming the audience with too much material or leaving the audience puzzled with too little. He also emphasizes that a presentation should be only as long as needed to deliver the intended message. Kosslyn says, “I’ve never once heard somebody complain that a presentation was too short.”

By considering the audience’s background and knowledge, a presenter can decide which concepts, jargon, and symbols to include—and to what depth. Presenters must pitch their messages at the right level for the audience, Kosslyn says. Consider fine-tuning the message by carefully choosing the complexity and sophistication of language elements, such as vocabulary and syntax. He also suggests choosing displays that people are more likely to understand, such as a standard bar graph rather than a box-and-whisker chart showing medians, quartiles, and outliers. Presenters should draw on concepts and information that fit the audience; for instance, he says, although not everyone will understand what first or second derivatives are, almost anyone can grasp the idea of amount.

Kosslyn’s second goal is to direct and hold the audience’s attention. The ideal presentation can do so, he says, by incorporating large, perceptible differences. Kosslyn calls our brains “difference detectors” that respond to large or sudden changes in stimuli, such as a rabbit moving in tall grass or a loud noise in the kitchen. A marked change in graphics or typeface triggers the brain, although not always for the better. For an example of what not to do, Kosslyn cites PowerPoint’s extensive collection of graphic-intensive background patterns. He warns that using such elements can distract the audience; instead, he advises drawing attention to the most important part of each slide.

The properties in a given slide should be different enough for audience members to tell them apart usefully. To illustrate, Kosslyn compares a 2-in height difference between toddlers with the same difference between 7-ft-plus professional basketball players: the contrast is much more noticeable in the younger pair.

Remembering how the human brain organizes, stores, and recalls material can help in designing an effective presentation. PowerPoint slides should not be puzzles that the audience must solve, he says. For instance, because of how our minds group information on the basis of proximity, similarity, and alignment, the labels on a slide should be closer to their associated objects than to any other element.

To fulfill Kosslyn’s third goal, a PowerPoint presentation should promote understanding and memory. People are more likely to understand a message if its form and its meaning are compatible, he says. He asks readers to envision the word “red” printed in colors other than red or to picture the word “small” printed in a typeface larger than that of the surrounding text. The mental schisms that such examples create show the importance of compatibility between a message’s form and its meaning.

Visual changes in a presentation must also convey useful information. Although many PowerPoint users include visual changes purely for decorative reasons or to avoid monotony, Kosslyn says that such random effects only distract the audience.

Every good presentation must take into account that people can retain and process only a limited amount of information. Using what he calls the Rule of Four, Kosslyn describes how people can keep at most four groups in mind at one time. Avoid, he says, showing all 64 boxes of an organization chart at once. Instead, increase the chances of comprehension and recall with such techniques as building up the chart incrementally to introduce each layer and graying out (making dimmer and less noticeable but still readable) the layers that are no longer the direct focus. That tip reminded me of college, when instructors taught from overhead transparencies that would remain covered except for the sections of immediate interest.

As professionals dedicated to clarifying and streamlining complex information, science editors will appreciate Kosslyn’s application of these precepts to the graphic aspect of communication. The book’s treatment of the psychology of learning and remembering reminded me to be vigilant of the needs of both the scientists who hire me and their readers.

Thinking back to the PowerPoint slides of my summers of science, I was pleased to find that my instructors all used principles similar to Kosslyn’s to enhance the learning experience. Now if only the book had advice for students struggling to memorize biochemical pathways. . .

Gabe Waggoner is a freelance science editor in College Station, Texas.

Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers. Scott Norton. University of Chicago Press; 2009. 238 pages. Hardcover $36.00. ISBN: 978-0-226-59514-6.
Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers.
Scott Norton. University of Chicago Press; 2009. 238 pages. Hardcover $36.00. ISBN: 978-0-226-59514-6.

Early in his career, Scott Norton made the connection between being able to create a solid outline and one of the many skills necessary to become a good developmental editor. Being a developmental editor, however, requires much more than a knack for organization; one must also be able to work with a variety of authors and clients and tackle a range of projects from memoirs to textbooks. Norton defines his job as being “the authors’ first and most attentive reader, their first critic—and perhaps the only one who will offer his insights confidentially, while there’s still time for them to make adjustments.”

The handbook focuses on trade nonfiction and is concerned with structure, flow, and voice rather than issues that are handled by a line editor or copyeditor. Developmental Editing offers a plan of attack for accomplishing each step of the developmental editor’s responsibilities. Although working on a given project requires overlapping tasks and a unique approach, each chapter covers a single step in the process from writing the proposal to creating a detailed structure to developing the display material that enhances the finished book.

The developmental editor does not work in a vacuum, and at the heart of the job is his or her connection with the author. Norton offers 12 rules designed to create a positive and fruitful working relationship. Although some items are obvious (“Be tactful”), others may not be (“Address logistics up front”).

Throughout, Norton presents specific examples to demonstrate how to accomplish the tasks of developmental editing. To appeal to different personalities, he has the reader follow the work of two developmental editors: Bud, who is fairly intuitive, and Hedda, who is more logical. Through them, we see how the main tenets introduced in the handbook can be adapted to suit the individual editor and the particular project.

Each chapter begins with an author, a client, and an assignment. Thus, the reader is exposed to a number of people and types of manuscripts. Norton has featured the most common situations from first-time author to established expert and from major publishing house to vanity press. Each assignment is accompanied by an unedited table of contents. At the conclusion of the chapter, a revised table of contents demonstrates the principles outlined in the text.

The handbook begins by examining the process of creating a proposal. One developmental editor starts from a vague idea and a table of contents, and the other starts with a first-draft manuscript. Norton is frank in noting that not all proposals and manuscripts can be shepherded to publication. If the developmental editor cannot create a succinct and crisp proposal or if the author is not enthusiastic about the plan, the editor should consider removing himself or herself from the project. The earlier the developmental editor recognizes that there may be problems in the working relationship or in the proposed project, the better.

The developmental editor’s first task is to define the proposed book’s concept, audience, marketing niche, and vision. Norton’s advice goes beyond the how-to. For example, in determining the book’s audience, the editor must assess not only who will be drawn to the book but who will be alienated by it and must then decide whether that is a cause for concern.

Concepts are not discussed in isolation, and Developmental Editing notes the ties between the audience and a book’s market. When writing a proposal or determining the potential of a manuscript, the developmental editor needs to consider the book’s staying power. Is the proposed project time sensitive, or will it find a comfortable place on the backlist?

Once the book project has been accepted and the author and client are onboard, the editor turns to more detailed planning. Developmental Editing outlines four tasks— finding the hook, establishing the timeline, making the argument, and creating the overall structure—that are generally completed before the developmental editor works directly on the text.

The middle chapters of the handbook are especially useful for the inexperienced developmental editor. Here Norton offers advice that is not readily available; even the veteran copyeditor or line editor is likely to discover something new. For example, he emphasizes the influence that audience and marketing strategies should have when the developmental editor is creating the principal thesis that will become a book’s driving force. The marketing team will use that thesis to pitch the book to retailers, reviewers, and the mass media. Norton provides detailed checklists and exercises for finding themes, determining the nature of the timeline, and organizing the arguments.

The final stages of developmental editing involve a close working relationship with the author. The handbook covers the processes of pacing the text, creating transitions, finding the author’s voice, and creating display material. The examples given in the later chapters include sample author queries that provide specific explanations for major editorial changes and are excellent for helping a new developmental editor learn to communicate with authors. Several charts help the editor to keep track of editorial changes, recognize jargon and rhetoric, and analyze tone.

Developmental Editing provides a clear guide to the art of developmental editing with a distinct emphasis on the author– editor relationship and the marketability of the finished project. Although the handbook targets mainly editors, authors can use the book to gain an understanding of the process of producing a book from proposal to final draft.

Candace B Levy is a freelance editor who lives in central Pennsylvania.

Book Alerts

Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language. Patricia T O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman. New York: Random House; 2009. 288 pages. Hardcover $22.00. ISBN: 978-1-4000-6660-5.

The authors explore misconceptions about the English language and its origins. They explain why some of grammar’s best-known rules aren’t, and never were, rules at all. This witty but well-researched book delves into bogus word origins, politically correct fictions, phony words and acronyms, and more. The publisher claims that this book “will be the toast of grammarphiles and the salvation of grammarphobes.”

The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market. John R Kohl. Cary, NC: SAS Press; 2008. 340 pages. Paperback $39.95. ISBN: 978-1-5999-4657-3.

Communicators who use written English to communicate technical information to a global audience can do more to make written texts more suitable to their readers. This guide focuses on sentence-level stylistic issues, problematic grammatical constructions, and terminology issues. Some topics covered are ways to simplify writing style and make it consistent, ambiguities that most writers and editors are not aware of, making sentence structure more explicit and easier for native and nonnative speakers to read and understand, punctuation and capitalization guidelines that improve readability and make translation more efficient, and how language technologies, such as controlled-author software, can facilitate the adoption of global English as a corporate standard.

The Manual of Scientific Style: A Guide for Authors, Editors, and Researchers. Harold Rabinowitz and Suzanne Vogel, Editors. Burlington, MA: Academic Press; 2008. 969 pages. Hardcover $54.95. ISBN: 978-0-12-373980-3.

This book addresses stylistic matters in physical and biological science, medicine, health, and technology. It presents guidelines for text, data, and graphics, and it is a comprehensive and authoritative style manual for professional scientists, science editors, general editors, science writers, and researchers.

New Editions

How to Write a Paper. 4th ed. George M Hall, editor. London: BMJ Books; 2008. 168 pages. Paperback $37.95. ISBN: 978- 1-4051-6773-4.

This guide to publishing in biomedical journals for novices has been fully revised and updated to include aspects of the writing of each section of a structured paper, incorporating the latest information on open access, electronic publication, and submission.

Medical Statistics at a Glance. 3rd ed. Aviva Petrie and Caroline Sabin. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley–Blackwell; 2009. 180 pages. Paperback $38.95. ISBN: 978- 1-4051-8051-1.

Medical Statistics is a new edition in the At a Glance series, which is popular among medical students and junior doctors for its concise and simple approach. The book now provides learning objectives for each chapter and a new chapter on developing prognostic scores. New or expanded material has been added on study management, multicenter studies, sequential trials, bias, and methods for removing confounding in observational studies, multiple comparisons, and more. Supplementary material, including an extensive reference list and a selfquiz, is available on a companion Web site.

The Elements of Internet Style: The New Rules of Creating Valuable Content for Today’s Readers. EEI Press Editors. Alexandria, VA: EEI Press; 2008. 162 pages. Paperback $24.95. ISBN: 978- 1-5811-54924-5. (Co-published with Allworth Press.)

Elements is the revised version of E-What? A Guide to the Quirks of New Media Style and Usage. It may be the “first authoritative guide to accept and embrace the realities of creating content for readers who are too busy and skeptical to tolerate the mediocre, unclear, or irrelevant.” The authors wrote this book for writers, editors, publishers, and teachers who create content in any medium.