To bullet or not to bullet â€“ that is the question. Bullets can bring clarity to an otherwise dense report. But overuse them and they will make a document very difficult to read. Here’s what I think, in bullets.
Bullet lists always need an introduction (like this one) and are good for:
â€¢ concise web content
â€¢ conveying key information
â€¢ breaking down complex lists
â€¢ summarising main points
â€¢ instructions (especially if numbered)
â€¢ shopping lists.
They have the advantage that they:
â€¢ make lists clearer, as they are more visual
â€¢ use white space well
â€¢ grab attention
â€¢ help readers scan information
â€¢ reduce word count
â€¢ make assessment criteria or marking systems clearer
â€¢ delineate points well.
Bullets can be particularly useful in technical writing. In our experience, they’re popular with scientists and engineers, many of whom overuse them (as a substitute for structured prose). Historians and policy makers prefer connected text, and so often underuse them.
But few people like them when:
â€¢ there are too many
â€¢ the points are too long
â€¢ they are for unimportant details
â€¢ you want to become involved in the story and so need connected text
â€¢ they contain emotional content
â€¢ visuals would be better
â€¢ the punctuation is erratic and distracting
â€¢ the points are in incomprehensible jargon
â€¢ a presenter reads from them in PowerPoint (as we can read faster than she can speak)
â€¢ some of them are very much longer than others and itâ€™s difficult to really see what the point of this particular type of bullet point is â€“ in fact when the writer is just rambling on and simply wasting the readerâ€™s time. (Annoying, isnâ€™t it?)
So, have your say. Do they mainly help the writer or can they be a great boon to the reader? Do they turn you off or do you relish their conciseness? Do you agree that some professions prefer their language to be information dense and others like the writer to use connected text and involve their readers in a story? Weâ€™d like to hear what you think.