Using Bullet Points

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Using Bullets Points

When using bullet points, be consistent with the formatting and start each bullet with the same type of word (i.e., create parallel lists). For example:

using bullet points effectively

Consistent Formatting with Bullet Points

Be consistent when formatting your bullet points. Here are some common formats:

Capital Letter and a Period (Full Stop)

Mr. Mole won the following events:
  • Egg-and-spoon race.
  • Toss the pancake.
  • Apple bobbing.

This is the most common format.

Lowercase Letters and No End Mark

Mr. Mole won the following events:
  • egg-and-spoon race
  • toss the pancake
  • apple bobbing

Punctuate Like a Sentence

Mr. Mole won the following events:
  • egg-and-spoon race,
  • toss the pancake, and
  • apple bobbing.

Some people like to maintain a sentence structure. You do not have to do this with bullet points, but it's an option. Be aware that not all your bullet points will lend themselves to this structure, so it is often difficult to maintain consistency throughout a lengthy document if you choose this method.

Punctuate Like a Sentence with Semicolons

Mr. Mole won the following events:
  • egg-and-spoon race;
  • toss the pancake; and
  • apple bobbing.

To be grammatically pure, you should only use this formatting when your list items contain commas.

Be Consistent!

Remember to keep your formatting consistent. Even if you can't maintain consistency throughout your whole document, you must stay consistent within the same set of bullet points. Here is a wrong example:
Mr. Mole won the following events:
  • Egg-and-spoon race.
  • Toss the pancake.
  • apple bobbing.

To keep consistent, this should be a capital A on "apple bobbing."

Be Logical!

Ensure all your bullets align with the introduction. Here is a real example from a bottle of fluoride mouthwash that doesn't maintain the logic in each bullet point:



The third bullet reads "Helps Fight Freshens Breath." That is illogical.

Create Parallel Lists (Use the Same Type of Word)

It is good practice to write your bullets with the same grammatical structure. This usually means using the same type of word at the start of each bullet. Here is an example that could be improved:
It is a picturesque region, but I would advise visitors to avoid:
  • Bathing in the river.
  • Driving in the town.
  • The local tapas bar.

This set of bullets makes perfect sense, but it is not as good as it could be. To improve these bullet points, bullet 3 should say "Eating in the local tapas bar." That way, the opening words would have been "Bathing," "Driving," and "Eating," which all end "-ing" (they are all gerunds).

When list items are written with the same structure, they are said to be "parallel." The list above is non-parallel.

Top Tip: Ensure your lists (not just your bulleted lists but all lists) are parallel. This will not only focus your thinking but also make your lists far easier to read. Creating parallel lists portrays you as a clear thinker.

Examples of Parallel Bullet Points

Here is a list of parallel bullet points using gerunds (a type of noun that ends "-ing"):
We provide the following services:
  • Maintaining fire alarms and extinguishers.
  • Training staff in CPR.
  • Training staff how to use a defibrillator.
  • Conducting routine fire-safety inspections.

This is a common format.

Here is a list of parallel bullet points using imperative sentences (ones that give orders):
All staff must complete the following before Monday:
  • Complete the online data-storage course.
  • Confirm your contact details with your line manager.
  • Remove all personal items from their desks.
  • Acquire a system log-in from the IT Support Desk.

This is another common format.

Here is a list of parallel bullet points using adjectives:
Members of the Sales Team must be:
  • Tenacious in the pursuit of sales targets.
  • Robust in the face of rejection.
  • Determined to improve.
  • Able to withstand pressure.
  • Enthusiastic at all times.
It doesn't matter what part of speech your bullet points start with. Structure your bullets in the same way.

Don't Introduce Your List with a Semicolon

Colons (:) are used for introductions. You cannot use a semicolon (;).
It is a picturesque region, but I would advise visitors to avoid;
  • Bathing in the river.
  • Driving in the town.
  • Eating in the local tapas bar.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Colons with bullet points (covers many of the same points) Semicolons to extend sentences