It seems content writers either love or absolutely abhor those little dots.
Jon of Presentation Advisors, for example, is antipathetic towards bullet points in PowerPoint presentations. When we use bullets, we tend to lump ideas together on the same slide without giving any one of those ideas a chance to shine, he says.
Myself, I’m kind of partial to bullet points, and from what I’ve been told, Google and the other search engines like them, too. In fact, as I actually stress in corporate blogging training sessions, lists and bullet points are generally a good fit for blogs; they help keep readers – and writers – on track.
“The aim of bullet points is to break complicated information down into digestible form or to highlight the main elements of a story, the Reuters Handbook of Journalism explains. Bullet points work in many story formats, Reuters adds, including briefs, updates, wrapups, interviews, and market reports.
Reuters offers several important guidelines for using bullet points:
- Bullet points must be succinct, in the active voice and in the present tense
- The minimum number of bullet points is two, the maximum five
- They cannot exceed one line (about 10 words) in length
Lynn Goertner-Johnston’s Business Writing blog teaches how to punctuate bullet points:
Use a period after every bullet point that is a sentence.
Use no punctuation after bullets that are not sentences.
Use either all full sentences or all fragments, not a mixture.
Sometimes bullet points complete a stem, and then there should be a period after each one, Goertner-Johnson goes on to give an example of how a “stem” works.
I like living in Seattle because of its:
- access to work opportunities.
- moderate climate.
- liberal politics.
(None of the three bullets is a sentence in itself, yet we use a period for each because it completes the original sentence.)
What about using numbers in place of bullet points? Cypress’ Catherine Hibbard explains that using numbers in place of bullet points would imply an order of importance; with bullet points, all items have equal value. Hibbard recommends beginning each bullet with an action word where that’s appropriate, but in all cases making tenses and verbs consistent.
One bullet point “compromise” I’ve found very useful is inserting a longer explanation after each point. That way, I am giving the individual items a “chance to shine”, while still taking advantage of the organizational simplicity of the bullet points.
For example, in this bullet-pointed list of Three Tips to Remember in Revamping Your Resume, J.P Hansen gives three 2-3 word pieces of advice, all in directive (command) form, but then explains each in a longer sentence:
- Explain, don’t list. Write three full sentences about your current or previous job with three to five bullet points highlighting your achievements.
- Limit activities. List just two hobbies to showcase your interests without seeming preoccupied.
- Use active language. Opt for strong, positive verbs like sold, earned, and developed.
Business blog posts are naturals for “biting the bullet”!