My life stays on-track thanks to bulleted to-do lists. I revolve my life around bulleted to-do lists. At any given time, I have at least four going between work and home to keep me organized and on target. Bullet points in writing act the same way. Here are some benefits of bullet points and tips for using them most effectively:
Using Bullet Points Helps Clarify Writing
If used correctly, bullet points can act as a point of entry for readers, a form of emphasis, or a way to denote importance. They can break up long paragraphs of text and add variety to a body of work while providing your reader with easy reference to quick information. Bullets are easy to spot, quick to read, and the knowledge they contain is more easily remembered.
Use Bullet Points Wisely
While there are a variety of ways that bullet points can improve your writing, they should be used sparingly. Too many sections of bullets can make information longer, and therefore more complex, than it really is. It’s also crucial to use bullet points appropriately.
The context of your writing should guide where, or if, bullet points are used. Certainly, lists or a series of like items fit well into a bullet point structure. However, crucial points may not. That’s why to-do lists use bullet points, but agendas don’t—the format just isn’t right for the information. The basic rule of thumb is that bullet points should make reading easier. If putting something in bullet point format doesn’t improve the reader’s comprehension, don’t use them.
Limit Your Bullets
Unlike to-do lists, text should not have an unending list of items. In some situations, a long list is unavoidable, but if a set of bullet points is being used for the express cause of breaking up text or signifying importance, the list should be limited. In general, people stop listening after five points are made. They’re also attracted to prime numbers, so lists of three and five will garner more attention and provide the greatest probability of being remembered.
Organize Bullet Points Accordingly
It’s nerdy, but when I go grocery shopping, I’ll rewrite my list so that it’s grouped by department and listed in order of the store’s layout so there’s no fear of missing something or having to go back for something. Bulleted lists should also be arranged in an order that makes them as efficient as possible. For instance, there might be a chronological aspect to the list, or a geographical one. If there is a way to make the bullets flow as easily as if they were sentences, that’s the way they should be ordered.
For lists that don’t have a clear order, list the most important point last. Surprised? Studies have shown the last point is the most likely to be remembered by readers. Items listed first are the second most likely to be remembered, while items in the middle are the most likely to be forgotten (similar to middle children).
If you have any questions on how to take your writing further by using bullet points effectively, contact me. Now, I’m going to cross “Write Blog About Bullet Points” off my to-do list.
Subscribe to SpeakingDIRECT to have new articles delivered to your inbox as they post. We promise to keep it fresh and interesting.