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Best Practice

Flipping text on its side: okay or nokay?

There is a practice of flipping text onto its side when space is constrained or by force of habit. While this practice is fine on a printed page (the viewer can always swivel the page around and read it), it is not a great practice for on-screen presentations. I always feel sorry for audiences as they tilt their head this way and that to read the relevant information on a projected slide that contains flipped text. As much as possible, avoid doing this to your audience. Here are some guidelines to help you make good decisions about when to flip and not flip text on your slides.

Sometimes flipping text is a reasonable option if the slide is dense with content and space is a problem. In cases like this, you should only use one or two words in the text blurb that you're going to flip. Word recognition can take place without the head-tilting maneuver.

The flipped text in the far-left-hand graphic definitely requires head tilting. Really try not to do this.

The graphic without the flipped text is a much better choice. Notice that it is not much wider than the graphic with the flipped text. The arrowheads already protrude beyond the body, so adding the text makes it only a little wider.

Flipped text is commonly used with matrices. Flipped text is actually a format preference with some companies, but its doubtful that much thought has gone into this formatting decision. Don't do things like this just because its the way you've always done it or seen it done. You have options.

Consider, instead, this formatting for matrices. The text is completely available to the viewer. There is no confusion between the two types of labeling for the axes. The lines are really not necessary, so, as with all unnecessary fields, get rid of them. Altogether, this layout is a better choice.

Put this guideline to work so that your audience doesn't have to work so hard.