One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Bullet points are used to draw attention to important information within a document so that a reader can identify the key issues and facts quickly. There are no fixed rules about how to use them, but here are some guidelines:
- The text introducing the list of bullet points should end with a colon.
- If the text that follows the bullet point is not a proper sentence, it doesn’t need to begin with a capital letter, nor end with a period. For example:
Tonight's agenda includes:
- annual review of capital gains issues
- outstanding inheritance tax issues
- If the text following the bullet point is a complete sentence, it should begin with a capital letter, while a period at the end is technically required but is not absolutely essential:
The agenda for tonight is as follows:
- We will conduct an annual review of capital gains issues.
- Attorney Sanso will talk about outstanding inheritance tax issues.
- Lists of bullet points will have more impact if each one begins with the same word class (part of speech) and if they are all of a similar length. Action verbs are a good choice for the first word—i.e., verbs that describe the performing of an action. If you do use verbs, make sure that each one is in the same tense. Here’s an example of the effective use of action verbs in a person’s résumé:
Duties and responsibilities included:
- teaching homework and study skills to disabled students
- reaching attainment targets and improving learning performance
- developing an after-school sports program
- Bullet points tend to have more impact if their text is relatively short. Make sure you use the same typeface and margin width within each section.
Bullet points are visually attractive and make it easy for a reader to locate important information. Nevertheless, you should try to use them sparingly: too many bullet-pointed sections in the same document will mean that their impact is lost.
Back to Punctuation.
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