Writing tip: Plan writing with PowerPoint

Theresa Bell

Planning a work before starting to write allows authors to think through their ideas before trying to express them. Without a plan, authors may be choosing their ideas as they write, which often means it’s the most recent idea that ends up in the text, not the best idea. Having a detailed plan reduces the likelihood of poor structure, unclear arguments, missing elements, and wordiness.

Plans can take a variety of forms, such as a traditional outline, a pyramid, or a concept map, but in this tip, I’m going to focus on using PowerPoint slides to create a plan. Creating a slide deck has a number of benefits:

  • The goal of a presentation is to communicate ideas to an external audience, versus the presenter expressing the ideas to himself or herself. Similarly, it's helpful for authors to think about the information and explanations their audiences will need to understand the work.
  • The process of creating a slide deck allows a presenter to make important decisions about the content. When the slides are ready to share with an audience, the presenter has already identified the key ideas and decided how to talk about them. By making those decisions during the planning process, the speaker only has to focus on expressing the information during the presentation, which creates a polished final result. Ideally, a document plan does the same thing for an author: the plan identifies the writer’s best ideas, and the writing of the document expresses them.
  • The typical approach to a PowerPoint presentation translates well to the elements expected in formal writing. The title slide can identify the introductory details and the thesis statement, subsequent slides can represent body paragraphs (e.g., one paragraph per slide), and the final slide can identify how the author will conclude the discussion and reinforce key details. Using PowerPoint to frame that structure can remind authors to include all the sections.

For a basic example of a slide deck, please click on PowerPoint Plan. You’re welcome to change the template as it suits your work; for example, the template is structured for a five paragraph essay, but slides could be added or deleted as necessary. In the slides representing the body paragraphs, the bullet points are abbreviations for the typical elements of an academic paragraph: topic sentence and argument (TS & AR), evidence (E), citation of where the evidence was retrieved (E), analysis (AN), conclusion (CN), and transition (TR). Writers can use keywords to fill in the placeholders, and when the plan is complete, blank spaces next to an abbreviation will indicate missing elements. For more information regarding those elements, please watch the “Writing an Academic Paragraph” video, which is available via Paragraphs. Please also see Finalize Your Document Plan.

To evaluate the plan before starting to write, consider:

  • Are the slides in a logical order? In other words, does the paragraph order need to change?
  • What are the transitions between the body paragraphs? Are those transitions identified on the slides? People naturally add transitions when speaking to help an audience move from one topic to another, but transitions in writing can seem more challenging. If you’re struggling to identify the transition, think about how you would talk through the transition if you were presenting the information.
  • Is there sufficient detail on the slides that you could present them verbally? If you couldn’t present the information, you’re probably not ready to write about it either. What information or explanations are missing?

A key aspect of developing a plan to guide your writing process is finding an approach that works for you; for more information on planning methods, please visit Planning the Paper.

Do you have questions about this tip or any other writing matter? Please contact the Writing Centre as we would be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Writing Centre Manager