Using Bullet Points

A bullet point/list is a very handy tool when it comes to business or technical writing. It consists of a number of items, which are preceded by a small dot, square, dash or graphic. A bullet point is used in those cases where all the information (that needs to be presented) is of equal importance, i.e., no particular hierarchy or sequence is required. It helps to present considerable information in a concise manner. A bullet point is visually very appealing as it puts less strain on the eyes of the reader. As such, it is used to highlight important information in the text. It is easier for a reader to understand the information presented as bullet points compared to paragraphs. However, it should be sparingly used. Else, it stands to lose its purpose. Although this tool is popular, there is quite a lot of confusion in the minds of people as to how to set them, especially the punctuations in bullet points. We shall discuss a few important tips that will be useful to you.

Tips for using bullet points

The sentence introducing the bullet list should end with a colon.

Ex.: The menu includes:

  • pasta
  • sausages
  • pineapple pudding

If the bullet point item is a complete sentence in itself, you may capitalize its first letter (not mandatory). Just ensure that the style followed is consistent.

Ex.: The details of the National Development Program are as follows:

  • The Rural Development Board will set up healthcare centers in every village, which will provide free treatment to the poor.
  • All the rural areas will be connected by proper roads.

Use a period at the end of a bullet point if it concludes the introductory phrase.

Ex.: My weekend plan includes:

  • getting up late in the mornings.
  • watching a movie with my family.
  • hanging out with my friends.

Note: If the items are of one word or short, do not use punctuations at the end.

Do not use punctuations at the end if the bullet point item is not a complete sentence and does not conclude the introductory phrase.

Ex.: I am ready for any of these:

  • Shopping
  • Partying
  • Watching a movie

As per Garner’s Modern American Usage manual, if a bullet item begins with a lower case, a semicolon should be placed at the end of each item, an ‘and’ should be placed at the end of the penultimate item, and the final item should end with a period.

Ex.: It was my duty to:

  • book travel tickets;
  • book hotel rooms;
  • arrange tourist guides; and
  • keep a record of all cash transactions.

The bullet points should not be very lengthy. Limit it to around three sentences.

The grammar (tense) used in the bullet point should be consistent throughout. If not, it distracts the attention of the reader from the actual meaning of the bullet point.

After the last bullet point item, give a concluding sentence, which provides a sense of “completeness” to the reader.

Apart from the above tips, just remember that whatever format you choose, you should maintain it consistently throughout the list. In that way, the reader does not get confused and distracted.