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Slidedocs: A New Perspective on Printed Communications

Guest Post: Nolan Haims

One of the most important communication books of the last number of years was quietly released in February. It is so far flying rather under the radar, but it has significant and immediate implications nonprofits and foundations.

The book is a tactical one on how to use a piece of software, but it directly addresses a challenge that organizations face on a daily basis: how to effectively and properly create written material for stakeholders using everyone’s default tool: PowerPoint.

Nolan Haims

Nolan Haims

Slidedocs is the latest from Nancy Duarte and her firm Duarte Design. And continuing their trend of releasing books for free and in multimedia formats (see resonate), Slidedocs is available for free download at their site in PowerPoint format. Though it seems odd to release a book as a PowerPoint file, in this case it is entirely appropriate as the entire focus of the book is creating print documents using PowerPoint, something Nancy calls “Slidedocs.”

Practical Solutions

I am very excited for this book as it addresses an uncomfortable truth that often goes unaddressed by many presentation experts: PowerPoint is used far more than just as a tool to create formal on-screen slideshows. I’m not talking about the amateur poster designs at the water cooler announcing a canned food drive (although that’s certainly a valid use), but rather the high-stakes reports, memos, strategy documents, proposals and even white papers—things that once were the domain of Microsoft Word.

But Word has become an entirely unusable program for most (me included) if one wishes to inject any degree of design or complexity. This fact, coupled with the need for all types of communications to be more concise, produced more quickly and delivered more visually, has made PPT the de facto method of communication creation.

We can debate whether this is a good thing or not, but it’s a fact. Unfortunately, PPT’s intrinsic design as “slideware,” leads most to create stereotypical on-screen slides even when their work will never see a projector or large LCD screen. (Microsoft’s default pages don’t help, pushing its users to make 44pt headers and 32pt body copy).

The trend toward using PPT to create print documents was something I started seeing years ago, and instead of fighting it, I have long advocated using PPT in 3 distinct formats:

Note: I’ll save the definition of a “Walking Deck” for another time, but let’s just say it’s a bit of a hybrid between the other two formats.

What I have always simply called a “Printed Document,” Nancy has termed a “Slidedoc.” I like the term, although I am still on the fence about whether it is too limiting, since what we really are talking about here is using PPT to create well-designed print documents as one might do in InDesign.

A Quick Review

The book is well-designed, well-organized and offers a lot of practical examples. Unlike most business books, Slidedocs is appropriately heavy on the visuals.


Slidedocs begins by making a case for using PPT for more text-heavy documents. But Nancy sees a Slidedoc as sitting in a unique place between on-screen presentations and documents: More textual than a presentation, but less so than a document. I won’t quibble here, because if this gets people thinking more like a document in appropriate cases, everyone benefits.

The book makes an excellent case for the use of hierarchy and organization (table of contents, navigation, headers, sub-heads, pull-quotes, etc), things severely lacking in most PPT creations. Nancy also reminds us of basic writing techniques such as active vs. passive voice, things which shouldn’t fly out the window, “just because it’s PowerPoint.” I was happy to see columned text and a grid layout as major characteristics of Slidedocs. Few people realize that PPT allows for columned text boxes and that spanning text across a landscape page in a single column makes for very difficult reading.

Book layout is often used throughout as a format to emulate, and it’s a good model. I particularly love Nancy’s comparison of a company logo to a publisher’s logo: no need to put Random House on every page of the book, right?


It’s obvious that Duarte Design has developed the style of Slidedocs over the years in direct response to client needs, and there are good examples of Duarte’s work proving how useful the format can be as a pre-read to a presentation, as an “Emissary” (sent to an executive or client), as reference material or as a follow up to a meeting. The book is quick to point out often the utility of the format in the context of typical situations where on-screen slides are not appropriate. And we all get the reminder that Slidedocs, like most things these days, needs to be scannable. Left unsaid is the sad fact that nobody is likely to read everything you write anyway…

sun slidesFor fans of Nancy’s other books, you’ll find some slight repetition in the areas of diagrams and charts, but nothing to prevent you from adding this to your presentation bookshelf.

Lastly, Duarte has kindly made available two Slidedoc templates for free download to get you started creating your own.

What’s Missing?

I do wish a bit more time had been spent on implementing grids and actual layout from a design perspective. I also wish Nancy had explored more opportunities for creating portrait style documents with PowerPoint. She mentions it in passing, but I have actually had a lot of success using PPT in this format, and I think Duarte could really add something on the topic.

I have to disagree with the suggested use of Arial Narrow for headers. As I often say, if you’re using Arial Narrow, you’re writing too much. And since the type size on a Slidedoc is much reduced anyway, there’s no harm in reducing header sizes and still being able to use a better font. But I do love that Duarte makes healthy use of Georgia, an excellent, but overlooked standard font. And I also have to disagree with the statement that white space indicates a luxury brand. White space should always be used, even if your subject is beef jerky.

A Final Caution

One last thing left unsaid in Slidedocs is that at the end of the day, PPT is still an imperfect tool for creating these types of documents. It’s very good, but remember that you still do not have text linking from page to page, text wrap around images or paragraph and character styling. And just because things look great on your screen does not mean that the same file opened on your client’s or boss’s machine will look exactly the same—unless you create a PDF, something I would always recommend. Indeed, the initial release of Slidedocs had a few formatting glitches. That’s just the way it goes when you publish a book in an editable format—that’s right, Slidedocs is just an ordinary old PPT file that you can edit intentionally or unintentionally yourself.

Slidedocs is one of the most important books on presentation and document creation of the last few years. I have already started adding some of its principles to my trainings for organizations, and I highly recommend everyone download it and start putting it to use.

Nolan Haims is a presentation consultant and designer. A former VP at Edelman, he trains foundations and corporate clients in how to better communicate visually. Keep up with him at his site,


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