Have you ever created a handout at the last minute before teaching a session? We often hastily prepare them without considering what elements make them most effective, but a first-rate handout can make a successful session even better.

Why should you make handouts?

  • Help students remember your presentation long after it is over.
  • Present information visually, which meets the needs of visual learners.
  • Allow students to concentrate on your presentation rather than trying to write down everything you say.
  • Provide students with a guide to help them with future research.
  • Give you something to refer back to when planning future sessions.

When should you create them?
Handouts should be created at the same time that you are planning your session. This ensures that the information you include will be tailored to that specific course. It's a good idea to make copies of your handouts ahead of time to avoid problems such as copier jams five minutes before your session begins.

When do you hand them out?
Opinions differ on when to pass out your handouts - some think it's best to give them out at the beginning or end of the session, and others prefer the point at which the information is most relevant. Just remember that your students will probably look at them right when they receive them and will miss whatever you say in the next several minutes.

What information should you include?

  • An outline of the key ideas in your presentation.
  • Specific information from your session to which your students will want to refer in the future.
  • Further information or a bibliography for further research.
  • Illustrations, charts, graphics, etc.
  • Make part of your handout an activity guide that provides directions, steps or a worksheet.
  • Remember, say no more than what is necessary - the urge to say too much can ruin a good handout.

What are some design tips?

  • Set off distinct parts of the handout using italics, shading, bolding or underlining.
  • Bullet lists to make them easier to scan and understand.
  • Leave at least a .75" margin on every side.
  • Try organizing information into a two-column format.
  • Serif fonts (such as Times New Roman) are more distinctive in print than sans serif fonts (such as Arial).
  • Use no more than three fonts in a single handout.
  • Make sure to leave plenty of white space to avoid confusion.
  • If you do have multiple handouts, make them distinguishable from each other by using multiple colors.
  • When you are done, look at your handout and ask yourself the following questions:
    1. Does the information flow?
    2. Is the handout visually appealing?
    3. If a student were to forget everything you presented, would the information included in the handout help him/her recall the main ideas?
    4. Is your contact information included?
    5. Are helpful Websites or tips for finding additional information needed/included?
Handout Section Recommended Font Size
Titles 14-16
Subtitles/subdivisions 12-14
Body 10-12

Handout Example
Rhetoric class handout

See other examples at the LIS Clearinghouse.
(If you have created a handout for a class that works well, please send it to us for inclusion in the clearinghouse.)

For your next session, download a handout from the LIS Clearinghouse and modify it to fit your specific needs. Show it to a colleague before the session and ask for feedback about the design and content. Then, try it in your session.

For more information:
Wallace, Marie. "Guide on the Side: Why and How to Avoid Trashy Handouts." LLRX.com May 1999. 10 Mar 2003 <http://www.llrx.com/columns/guide27.htm>