Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Templates, Powerpoint Tips/Tricks (Part 2)

Yesterday, I discussed how typesetting your thesis and journal publications in LaTeX can make your work look much more professional than anything thrown together in MS Word. But there are instances (like my current one), where you have no choice but to use MS Word. This is either because you must submit it in *.doc format or because you need to work with track changes and things like that. If you’re working with MS Word and you need to trade text and figures with a colleague, then you’re probably going to use PowerPoint to make your figures. Below I’ve outlined a few steps that I take when making PowerPoint figures for documents to make them look professional, at least as professional as raster graphics can look.

1. Scale your figure right from the start
Typically, you know your size constraint right from the start. There’s nothing more annoying than resizing your figure, changing all of your font sizes on the fly. If you’re writing a two-column journal article, you probably have 3 inches of width or about 8.3 cm to play with. For single column journals (like Optics Express), the columns are a little wider 5.3”/13.3 cm. Each university thesis template varies but you generally have more space than that.

Start your figure by building a box a few inches tall with the maximum width allowable by your intended publication. In PPT, go to properties and check to make sure your set your figure width in inches (or cm). When drawing your figure, everything must fit inside that box. If you go outsides of the box, you have to resize on the fly, which screws up your text sizes. This gives you and idea of what you can fit within one column and if you need to make a figure that spans two columns. Remember, you can always go taller (to a point), so think about your figure layout and if you can make it taller than wider, as necessary.

2. Set your fonts and font sizes to match the template
Once you have your maximum box size, it’s now time to put something in that box. Most figures have some text, which must conform to publications standards. Probably, your text shouldn’t be smaller than 9 pt or 10 pt font and you should select a font that closely matches the main text font. Maybe I’m picky, but seeing a Times text font with figure labels in Arial just really stands out to me. This is especially the case when you can tell there was some effort put forth to make a good looking figure.

With the outline box and the right size fonts, you should have a better idea of how your figure needs to be displayed without making things too crowded.

3. Remove textbox borders in PowerPoint
A common problem when copying your figures from PPT into Word is the textboxes show up outside of your figures. You can see this below where the text box is extended outside of the outline.

When you have grouped your figure and copied it into your document, you get an overhang which makes your figure wider than desired. (FYI, Blogger scales the figure to "medium" so it doesn't exactly match the other two.)

To remove this, Right click on the Textbox, go to Format Textbox. Under the Textbox heading, make all of the internal margins zeros. If you want, you can make this the default setting by Right clicking on the Textbox again and select Set Autoshape Defaults. All of your properties for this box (font, fontsize, linestyle, fillstyle, etc) will become the new default for PPT objects. Once the margins are zero, you can reduce the size of the box to make it just bounding the text. This will remove the overhang.

4. Import your figures as BMP, JPEG, PNG, or TIFF.
That means never use “MS powerpoint object” or “Windows Enhanced Metafile”. MS Office likes to link all of your documents which, in principle, would be great if it wasn’t so bloated. But Office products have a hard time staying open on their own, let alone when linked between different files. I always paste special and select either BMP, JPEG, PNG, or TIFF (depending on how my figure was saved). Also, make sure that figure is “in line with the text”. If you still have overlap or disappearing figures, make sure your line spacing for that figure is set to 1. If it’s set to “exactly” or “multiple”, your figure might appear under the text.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss some Matlab templates for figures. Do you have any additional tips for drawing figures in PPT? Comments?

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