How to use bullet points

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Last week we were thinking about bullet points and why they can make life easier for both you and your reader. This week, we’re looking at how to use bullet points practically when you need to write a list.

There are a few common mistakes with bullet points, but it’s easy to fix them. Here are a couple of tips to help you get bullet points right:

1.)    Your bullet points should ‘match’

Because bullet points are such a handy tool, it can be tempting to use them as a kind of ‘catch all’ for any miscellaneous points you need to make in your writing.

For example:

At Wafflington Crown Hotel, we provide all overnight guests with:

  • towels
  • soap and toiletries
  • free Wifi
  • television
  • breakfast is served from 7am until 10am
  • please return your key to reception at the end of your stay

The first four points on this list are all in the same category (‘things that the hotel provides’). They can all be used to complete the sentence at the top.

However, the last two points on this list don’t really fit into this category. They may be relevant, but they don’t need to be in this list.

You can tackle this common mistake by thinking about your list of bullet points like a shopping list.

It’s the kind of list we all know how to write without thinking and it’s a great example of how bullet points work.

Shopping list

  • milk
  • eggs
  • bread
  • washing powder
  • Sellotape

All the points on this list match. They all fit into the category of ‘things I need to buy at the shops’. You wouldn’t put ‘make birthday cake’ on a shopping list. It’s a separate point, so it doesn’t fit on the list.

2) Bullet points should make sense.

Another top tip is to make sure your bullet points make sense when they’re read.

It’s common to see lists like this:

Welcome to the Wafflington Summer Fayre! There are lots of fun things to do and see including:

  • bouncy castle
  • there will be face-painting from 2pm onwards
  • a magic show
  • balloon modelling, dog competition, flower show
  • we also have a number of live musical acts performing

 All these points do fit into the category of ‘things happening at the fayre’, but there’s something a bit strange about the way they’ve been written.

Each point should complete the sentence at the top of the list.

Some of them do this:

There are lots of fun things to do and see including a magic show

But some of them don’t:

There are lots of fun things to do and see including there will be face-painting from 2pm onwards.

 It’s a common problem but it’s quick to fix. We can easily tidy up this list so that it makes more sense for the reader:

Welcome to the Wafflington Summer Fayre! There are lots of fun things to do and see including:

  • a bouncy castle
  • face-painting (from 2pm onwards)
  • a magic show
  • balloon modelling
  • a dog competition
  • a flower show
  • a number of live musical acts

Do you see how each point matches and follows on naturally to complete the sentence at the top of the list? It’s the work of only a few seconds, but it makes such a big difference.

Now that you’ve got bullet points under your belt, you’re ready for the Write for Real People Workshop on Thursday, where we’ll be putting this tip to the test…

 

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