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The Value – and Overuse – of Bullet Points

Bullet points, those lovely list-organizing tools that push words over a tab to make them really stand out. What professional writer wouldn't like them?

Just a couple clicks of the mouse or a keyboard shortcut or two, and voila! We have our thoughts mapped out just as nice as you please.

Better yet, bullet points can come in number form, dot form (solid or clear), arrow form, letter form, symbol form… so many forms to choose from for such a useful, time-saving source of readability.

Perhaps best yet though is how they so often make our content look longer. While they rarely bump our actual word count up, they do push the page count.

Which then makes us look like we have more to say.

Which then makes us look smarter.

It’s a win-win-win for us, the writers. And the reader can benefit greatly as well.

How much do we love bullet points? Let us count the ways:

  • They give readers an optical break. This physically allows their eyes to rest from the sometimes tiring task of slogging through lines and lines of print.

  • They give readers a mental break. Sometimes those lines and lines of print can be too much for the brain to take too. Chopping them down into more (mentally) bite-sized chunks could make them more understandable.

  • They give character to the page (physical or online). Along with the physical and mental appeal, visual diversity can make copy more emotionally stimulating. Maybe that’s because it’s “prettier” that way. Or maybe it’s because readers realize that their reading time has just been made more manageable.

Considering how, hopefully, we writers want our readers to be happy, it’s another triple winner right there.

So are bullet points all-around winners? Or can they be a bad thing as well?

The answer to that second question is an easy yes, since they get misused all the time.

For instance, bulleted lists on top of bulleted lists aren’t always a good thing. Especially when they’re on top of bulleted lists. The repetitive nature of that presentation can cheapen it, making it look like the writer was too lazy to form actual arguments or sentences.

Speaking of sentences, paragraph-laden bullet points spaced together too tightly can be an eyesore. No doubt, you remember how we said they can provide visual variety?

Well, they can also do the complete opposite if you don’t put the proper spacing between each one.

Now, don’t worry about it if you’re working with a simple laundry list like the one below:

  1. Optical break

  2. Mental break

  3. Character.

There’s plenty of white space to refresh both the readers’ eyes and brains. No problem whatsoever.

The longer explanations in the last segment, however, needed the extra lines included between them to be at their utmost effective.

In short, use your bullet points wisely. They may be a lovely list-organizing tool that push words over a tab to make them really stand out…

But only under certain circumstances.



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