Citing Sources in Slide Presentation

A student I was helping at the reference desk recently asked me to examine a slide presentation he and a classmate were working on for an assignment. On one slide, there appeared a bulletted item that was clearly not written by the students. When I mentioned to the student that she should consider putting quote marks around the quotation and in some fashion identify the source, she seemed completely nonplussed, as though there was no need to indicate in this slide medium content which material was written by others. That got me to thinking that I haven’t really seen any guidelines or best practices about how to indicate in a slide that text or ideas came from another source.

I’m curious to hear what sort of advice instructors give to students about citing sources for slide presentations. While it easy to envision a final slide that is a reference list, it seems to be trickier to develop best practices for identifying sources in slides that make up the main part of a presentation. Should you use numbered notes? An author-date notation set in parentheses? A source note at the bottom of the slide? To what extent can the rules that are delineated in the major style guides (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) be applied to slide presentations? Do these rules, which were created to support the needs of scholars writing books, articles, and reports, work well in a medium like slide presentations, where there is a great deal of flexibility in the way text can be presented?

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9 Responses to Citing Sources in Slide Presentation

  1. Elisabeth Gareis says:

    There are a number of alternatives: If there are multiple citations on one slide, superscript numbers (in small font) seem to work best. If there is only one source per slide, a citation in small font on the bottom of the slide is more convenient. Doing so in APA style, for example, requires only the author and date; i.e., is unobtrusive. In either case, the last slide of the slideshow contains all references.

    Another option would be to provide references in the notes area of each slide (the disadvantage is that they are not visible in slideshow view). Or one could create a direct link to the source, if feasible, by providing the URL at the bottom of the slide.

    The citation issue brings up the old question of whether to use PowerPoint for text slides. I’ve found the medium works best as a vehicle for visuals (photos, graphs, etc.) that illustrate or clarify a point, rather than for text. And with visuals, it usually works best to provide the source right below the visual on the bottom of the slide.

  2. Kyra Gaunt says:

    Thanks for your post. It reminds us all that not unlike history, knowledge is not self-replicating. Even when it seems obvious to us faculty and staff, when we were young we often overlooked citations. One reason this is happening is that most students don’t think what they have to say or offer will go beyond their teacher’s view or the classroom. They can’t see the ramifications of what they are up to yet.

    I am offering a few links that faculty might share with students. I have decided to create a WORD template for formatting documents for all my classes that includes formatting bibliographies and in-text citations. When I was a grad student at Univ of Michigan, the grad school made templates for our dissertation writing available for download (back in 1995). It had the title page, TOC, a mock chapter heading and text, appendixes, notes, and bibliography already formatted in a Word Doc.

    Why not make the same available for undergrad students. Modelling is always a great learning tool.

    Once again thanks for reminding us to apply standard literary ethics to ppt.

    Using Quotes

  3. Dennis Slavin says:

    If more than a few words in a row are quoted, they should be cited, and I think the name of the source should be both on the slide and in a list of sources at the end.

    I very much agree with Elisabeth that a lot of text should be avoided in a slide: photos and graphs, however, can be very helpful. But unless they are entirely original they need citations as well. An original graph that is based on data collected and analyzed by someone else should show the source of the data.

  4. WMillhiser says:

    And just today I attended a conference where a University of Waterloo researcher displayed the image without citing a source or URL (I had to ask). With the growing ubiquity of Google image searches, is the image citation a dying standard? No says Krya’s first link. “Citations should be used for any images you incorporate … to which you do not own the rights.”

  5. James Drogan says:

    Clutter is death, or at least a distraction, in presentations. Citations add to the clutter and, in my view, ought not appear on the slide containing the material being cited.

    I suggest that the citations form a set of endnotes.

    Other than that, normal citation rules should apply.

  6. Kyra Gaunt says:

    A citation can be quite small and just the presence of a line of text even if illegible from the audience promotes attribution of borrowed material and also encourages questions about sources. So I use them often in my ppts not unlike in any text. Sort of like an in-text citation (Henderson 1999, 2) or (CIA WorldFactBook) will do. You can avoid clutter and still cite.

  7. Kyra Gaunt says:

    PS. If you want to learn about slides go to the SLIDE:OLOGY Blog at and click the BOOK link at the top of the page for a lot of useful tools and guidelines from one of the leading presentation design firms. They did Al Gore’s presentation for An Inconvenient Truth

  8. Kerry Jones says:

    It’s never really been an issue in my composition and research classes. There is little difference between using a source in a Powerpoint visual and using it in a print format; if it comes from a source external to the writer, it should be both cited and Referenced.

  9. Larry Sheeley says:

    A good product to use for correct citations and references is actually built into Microsoft Word 07. All you do is fill out a screen of information that asks author, title, dates, etc and choose a style. Then all you do is click the citation and it will insert it. At the end click on works cited, and you have the correct reference style in alphabetical order. Styles include: APA, Chicago, MLA, Turabian, GB7714, GOST-Name Sort, GOST-Title Sort, ISO 690 First Element and Date, ISO 690 Numerical Reference, and SIST02.

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