Refining Your Project Concept: Storyboarding

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Creating an effective presentation for your research involves communicating your key points in a way that can be understood by audiences from varied backgrounds. Effective slide design, with thoughtful, illustrative visuals is an important tool to convey these key points in a clear and interesting way. Storyboarding, a visualization method adapted from film and television production, provides a useful starting point to generate presentations and corresponding slide content. In storyboarding, a presentation is planned in chunks of story (like shots in a film), each of which is captured in a corresponding (visually-focused) slide. This approach can help you to understand how ideas from your research are related to one another and how they build a story when connected together. Drafting each of your chunks in a rough storyboard schematic on paper, before you start designing slides on your computer has other additional benefits: you’ll be encouraged to consider the overall shape of your presentation before committing to a structure; you’ll begin to envision your slide content and structure before feeling the constraints of a slide template; and you’ll feel less tied to a particular slide sequence or style if you have not started to produce a slide deck.     

The activities below will guide you to… 

  • Identify the level of information required to communicate clearly about your research to someone that is not directly in your field. 
  • Draft a storyboard of your thesis project that could be adapted for a future presentation on your research approach. 

Important Concepts 

Storyboardinga method to breakdown and visually understand related ideas by producing chunks of a presentation, each of which is captured by a single slide.  

If you were providing a written research approach outline to someone else, what key points of information would they need to know to understand the overall structure and goals of your research project? This is the information that you should focus on outlining in a storyboard for a PowerPoint presentation on your thesis project. 

Refer to Resource 1 provided for an outline of the process of presentation storyboarding. See the activity examples at the end of this module for samples of simple research presentation storyboards. 

Activity – Storyboarding Your Thesis Approach 

Estimated time: 1 hour 

  1. Download a copy of the storyboarding template from the activity examples at the end of this module. 
  2. Review the research approach outline that you generated in the outlining page activities. Focusing on the key points from this document, create a storyboard for a presentation about your research approach using the supplied template. 
  3. Refer to the activity examples at the end of this page for samples of research presentation storyboards. Using the template with six slides, what will the main topic and purpose of each slide be? Record this underneath each slide.  
  4. Below the slide’s topic heading, list the central message you wish to convey or a few key concepts you will cover on that slide. 
  5. In the box above, map out (using words or simple sketches) the slide content and design. What visuals and text will you put on the slide to support the message you will convey when presenting it?  
  6. Refer to Resources 2 and 3 at the end of this module for tips on designing effective visuals for a presentation.  
  7. Once you’re finished creating your storyboard, read through your slides as if you were presenting your research approach from start to finish. Do your slides tell the story of your project in a way that could be understood by an audience from varied backgrounds? What are the connector statements that allow you to transition from one slide to the next? Are there any gaps in information that might make it hard for an audience to understand your project and that you can fill in on your storyboard? Was the information presented coherently and in a logical order to tell the story of your research? 

Things to Think About… 

  • How can you use what you learned today to improve organization and content towards creating a polished research presentation? What definitions and background do you need to explain and in what order? Can you use a diagram to help improve understanding of some concepts? 

Activity Examples

Storyboarding Your Thesis Approach
Storyboarding TemplateTemplate for creating a research approach presentation storyboard.
Storyboarding ExamplesSample storyboards at various levels of completion. Remember this is an internal planning tool so it doesn’t have to be perfect.


Storyboarding Your Thesis Approach
1 Overview of the process for storyboarding presentations and slides.
2 IEEE’s Professional Communication Society offers brief articles on slide design and visual rhetoric.
3 Duarte is a highly established professional presentation design firm; their blog offers guidance on presentation and visual design and delivery.