How to Write Bullet Lists: Do's and Don'ts
Do bulleted lists require the same punctuation? Should Unordered
bulleted lists contain some type of symbol? When do I use a Bullet List
or a Numbered List? Do they all need periods?
One of the biggest problems for business and technical writers is how
to present information so that the reader can find the right information
without having to dig it out.
Write to be Scanned
Using bullet lists and numbered lists is a very effective way to present
Instead of burying the key points inside large blocks of text, pull out
the significant parts so readers can see with a glance what the most
important parts are.
Remember, on the web most of us scan for nuggets of useful content. We
don’t usually read word by word. We scan for information.
Once you grasp this, write your documents to reflect this.
Bullet v Numbered Lists
So, when you do use a Bullet list or a Number lists?
Knowing when to use,
and when not to use, bullet, numbered or outline lists can prove difficult.
Before Word Processing came along, most publications displayed lists as either outline
or numbered lists, but with Microsoft Word, you suddenly had bullet lists!
When to use Numbered lists
Use numbered lists when you're explaining instructions that need to be performed in
Numbered and unnumbered lists are most frequently used in academic and government
publications. If numbers aren't essential use bullets, especially in business related
When to capitalize the first letter in a bulleted item
In most cases, you can start each bulleted item with a capital letter. As were
taught in school to capitalize only proper nouns and the first word of a complete
sentence, it may feel wrong to capitalize these single words and phrases.
Today it is generally accepted that you can capitalize the first word in bullet lists
When to use Periods and Full Stops
Use periods (aka fullstops) after independent clauses, dependent clauses, or long phrases that are
displayed on separate lines in a list.
The software has the following features:
- Content Management features
- Dynamic Binding capabilities
- Autonomic programming add-ins.
Tip: Use periods after short phrases that are essential for the completeness of the
statement introducing the list.
Microsoft Word has a number of features, including:
- Master Pages
- HTML generation
You dont have to use periods after short phrases or single words in a list if
the introductory statement is grammatically complete.
The houses in this price range have attractive features, such as:
- Large gardens
- Spacious rooms
- Central heating
Note: When one item contains a complete sentence, punctuate all bulleted items.
Capitalize the first words and put a period at the end of each item.
The US Army does not accept recruits who have engaged in:
- Criminal Activities
- Anti-Government demonstrations
- Violent history. Please list all occasions when you were arrested or detained
Note: if you're creating a long document full of bulleted items, be
consistent and decide at the start to end each item with, or without, a period. Within a
grouping, always use all periods or no periods.
Avoid alternating throughout the document.
How NOT to do it
The managements suggests that you
- Arrive on Friday;
- Cook all the dishes, clean up, change
your clothes; and
- Go back home once youve feed us
If you want to use the semicolons (;), delete the bullets and create a sentence.
Bullets serve a similar role to Headlines. They highlight key points,
are short, and are best with action verbs.
Bullets are not (necessarily) sentences.
If you want to write complete sentences, use a paragraph or numbered
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