Writing Solutions | Bullet Points: Using Them Effectively
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Bullet Points: Using Them Effectively

Bullet Points: Using Them Effectively

Bullet points can present certain types of information in an efficient and easy-to-read manner. However, if overused, they can be annoying and even complicate understanding.  It is worth considering how bullet points can be used effectively and also how to punctuate them correctly.

Why do readers like bullet points?

Bullet points can effectively communicate short bits of text and lists because they:

  • reduce the number of words
  • grab our attention
  • help us scan quickly.

 

They are particularly useful for:

  • concise information
  • important points
  • instructions.

 

When should we avoid using bullet points?

If information requires a proper explanation or various points need to be linked to one another, it is generally better to use normal text.  They should also be avoided when lists are very long or complicated, and when information is not particularly important.

Recommendations for punctuation

A list of bullets should always be preceded by an introductory phrase or sentence. There are different opinions about how bullet points should be punctuated, but today we generally do this:

  • first element (no capital letter, no punctuation)
  • second element (no capital letter, no punctuation)
  • final element (no capital letter, followed by a full stop).

However, if each element is itself a sentence, we start each bullet point with a capital letter and end it with a full stop.  So, the presentation would be as follows:

  • This is the first element of my list.
  • This is how I present the second element.

You will still see people using a semi-colon (;) after each element and “; and” before the final element, but this way of punctuating has gone out of fashion.  Whatever style of punctuation you use, remember to be consistent!

A final reminder about consistency

Not only should we maintain consistency with the punctuation of our bullet points in a document, but we must also be careful to start each point with the same grammatical element.

When we write lists with bullet points, it is important to:

  • punctuate consistently
  • start each element with the same grammatical structure.

 

Both bullets above started with a verb, without “to”.  It would have been incorrect to start the second bullet point with “to start” or “starting”, for example.  This is totally obvious here, but you would be surprised how many people forget about consistency when the list gets longer!