Automatic Line Break on the Title Slide: a readability breaker

Do not let your presentation software break compound nouns across lines. Noun-preceded modifiers should be on the same line. In the following example, it makes little sense to let PowerPoint or Keynote automatically place p53 and GADD45 on two separate lines because it makes your title unclear : “A mammalian cell cycle checkpoint pathway utilizing p53 and GADD45 is defective in ataxia-telangiectasia“. At first reading, the reader thinks each line makes a separate point.

“A mammalian cell cycle checkpoint pathway utilizing p53 and GADD45 is defective in ataxia-telangiectasia” is unambiguous.

How is one to avoid such incongruous line breaks? You have the easy and the hard choices.

EASY:

1) Insert a carriage return at the appropriate place to avoid bad line breaks.  2) Reduce or increase the font size until the bad line break disappears. If it does not, try the first choice.
3) Increase or decrease the size of the text box by dragging its handles until the troublesome line break disappears.

HARD:

1) Insert a hard space between the words that should remain on the same line as “cell cycle checkpoint pathway” in the example title. On my Mac, the hard break character in Microsoft PowerPoint is Option+Shift+Space.  2) Those who can’t find the hard space (also known as the non-breaking space), can fill the rest of the line with as many characters as necessary until the line wraps and give these additional characters the color of the background to make them disappear.
3) Rewrite your title and avoid placing more than two modifiers in front of a noun by adding a preposition to break the long chain of words into shorter segments. If we tried to do this on the sample title

“a mammalian cell cycle checkpoint pathway”

we would run into trouble. Adjectives like mammalian are not usually a problem, they can be separated from the noun they qualify at little readability cost. However, there is no such thing as a mammalian cycle, or a mammalian checkpoint; Mammalian belongs to cell. Long nominal chains like “cell cycle checkpoint pathway” or “checkpoint pathway” cannot be separated. For the uninitiated, a long modified noun is not easy to decode. Does “checkpoint” belong to cell cycle or to pathway? An expert would know, but not every reader is as expert as the writer. A preposition would clarify: “Checkpoint pathway of the cell cycle”, or “Pathway of the cell cycle checkpoint”, whichever represents the correct meaning. And “of” may not even be the right preposition!

Author: Jean-Luc Lebrun

This century: Writer on Scientific writing skills and scientific presentation skills, MC for scientific events, Podcaster, Radio Consultant, Trainer for Research Institutes in Engineering and Life Sciences, Singapore, and in European doctoral schools, as well as in South East Asia Universities. Last Century: Apple Computer, Advanced Technology Group, Technology Information manager. Then Director of the Apple-ISS Research Centre - a joint venture between Apple Computer and the National University of Singapore. Producer of TV program on IT for Singapore Channel 5.