Bullet points are great. They let you:
- list information;
- break up text; and
- sequence your thoughts.
But here at A Way With Words, when proofreading content we see some common mistakes and hear some common concerns. We don’t want writers to be put off using bullet points; so we’re here to help you grab the bullet by the horns with the basics:
1. Introductory sentence
2. Correct punctuation
3. Consistency of structure
d) Consistency of style
Ladies and gentlemen, please pull up a chair as I proudly present our bullet list. The sentence introducing your list needs not only to entice your readers but be correctly punctuated as well. If your introductory sentence is
- A full sentence – use a colon.
- A fragment – jump straight in.
Starting and ending your bulleted text correctly is where many writers break out into a sweat but the rules are fairly simple.
Complete sentences should begin with a capital letter and end with a period (e.g a full stop).
Here are some of our favourite facts about ice cream:
- Ice cream tastes nice.
- Ice cream often comes with chocolate sauce.
- Ice cream often appears on holiday.
Continuous sentences should use semicolons, with the penultimate sentence ending ‘; and’ and the final sentence ending with a period.
When eating ice cream you should
- select an appropriately sized bowl;
- have chocolate sauce at the ready; and
- dig right in.
Incomplete sentences shouldn’t end in a period and capitalisation of the first word is down to stylistic preference.
My top ice cream flavours:
- peanut butter
Consistency of structure
When it comes to grammar, people have different styles, were taught by different English teachers and will debate at length about the correct use of some grammatical rules. One rule that isn’t up for debate when it comes to bulleted lists is consistency.
Avoid being inconsistent with your sentence structures and styles.
- It makes your writing appear unprofessional.
- Difficult to understand
- Consistency with sentence structures makes your writing flow more naturally.
- This list is terrible.
Each bullet point should make sense when being read with the top sentence alone.
Consistency of Style
However you are approaching your bullet points, stick to it. If you’re beginning each point with a capital, do it for every point. If you’re using bullet points, mini bullet points, arrows, numbers or letters to denote that we’re now entering list territory, be consistent throughout the list.
Bullet points should be concise, punchy and cut right to the chase. Keep them short, simple and full of keywords. Stick to paragraphs for longer chunks of text and stick to shopping lists for bullet points that run on and on. And on.