Writing Tips – Bullets
Bulleted lists are awesome. They organize information. They inject white space into documents, attracting the eye. They kill redundancies. If bullets were outlawed, we’d be endlessly tormented by statements like this:
The Mini Cooper offers a variety of benefits. One benefit is its compact yet comfortable design. Another benefit is its fuel-efficiency. Yet another benefit is its low cost. And still another benefit is its generous warranty.”
But thanks to bullets, you can read instead …
The Mini Cooper offers a variety of benefits:
– Compact yet comfortable design
– Low cost
– Generous warranty
Obviously, the second version is easier to visually organize and digest. Plus, it avoids maddening repetition.
Question: Should you place a period or other punctuation mark at the end of each bullet? The rule regarding this – like the speed limit in downtown Cairo – is actually more of a suggestion than a rule. It is this: Use punctuation if the bulleted phrase is a complete sentence. Use no punctuation if it’s not.
If the list is a mix of full sentences and phrases or single words, you’re on your own. And it serves you right because the items in bulleted lists should either be all sentences or all non-sentences. Like drinking and driving, the two should not be mixed.
One final note: Use simple symbols for bullets. Hyphens, dashes and small squares or dots are all good choices. (The dot is arguably the most pleasing and visually effective bullet symbol.) Hearts, fleur-de-lis, Rosicrucian crosses and smiling gerbil faces make lousy bullets unless you’re writing love letters, papal edicts or animal-rights blogs.