Use More Bulleted Lists


Our readers want to learn quickly and easily when they read. This means it's on us to present information in a way that can be read and understood immediately. Paragraphs can't always accomplish this because they're not necessarily scannable. They don't make things easy to find. So how can we convey detailed, precise information without bogging down our readers?

Enter the bulleted list.

We know we can use bullets for lists of materials or items. But what about using bullets for more complex information? What about taking a large paragraph apart and discovering that a lot of its information could be conveyed in a tidy, easy to access, easy to scan, vertical list?

Let's see how this would work with a "Before and After" revision example.

Before:

When using bullets, one decision we need to make is whether to use traditional bullets, or choose numerals or letters instead. This decision depends largely on whether the items need to be performed in a specific order. If not, we should avoid using numbers or the reader will assume those numbers mean something. We should also consider whether the items are listed in order of importance, or whether the items in the list are all "equal" in rank.

After:

When choosing among bullets, numerals, and letters, we should consider questions like:

  • Do these items need to be performed in a specific order?

  • Are all the items on the list equal rank?

  • Will readers need to reference individual bullets in later discussions?

Okay, so far so good, but let's add in a little more complexity. What if we're writing a list of bullets that's going to be longer than, say, five, and we're worried it'll be hard to reference these bullets in a later conversation if they're not labeled? For example, in a future meeting, would we say "I take issue with the ninth bullet, let's count from the top, one-two-three-four, etc."? Sounds like kind of a pain.

Enter the lettered list.

Listing items with letters avoids the possibility of suggesting order or rank, but still provides a way to reference individual bullet points. Try using letters in your next super long list of bullets. Here's how it looks.

When using bullets, we should:

a. Consider the reader's needs

b. Ensure all bullets use matching grammar

c. Start with a lead-in sentence

d. Use matching punctuation to conclude bullets

e. Keep it brief

Have a question or want to suggest a particular topic for a future newsletter? Leave your question in the comments box at the bottom of our website's homepage. And as always, please forward this to a friend if you've heard them struggling with bullets.

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