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How to use bullet points effectively

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

In business writing, bullet points often replace regular old paragraphs, with good reason: Readers can scan them faster.

Stick to these standards for using bullets effectively:

1. Keep your bullet structure parallel. In other words, if you begin the first bullet in a group with a verb, begin all other bullets in that group with a verb. For example, notice the difference between these two bulleted lists.

Unparallel:

At today’s Lunch ‘n’ Learn, we’ll be talking about XYZ software:

  •   20 easy shortcuts
  •   How can it save you time at work?
  •   Designing templates

Parallel:

At today’s Lunch ‘n’ Learn, we’ll be talking about XYZ software. You’ll learn:

  •   How to be more efficient with 20 easy shortcuts
  •   How XYZ software can save you time at work
  •   How to design templates using XYZ software

2. Limit a bulleted list to seven to nine items. Need more than that? “Look for logical ways to divide the lists that will help readers understand the information,” writes Lynn Gaertner-Johnston of Syntax Train­­ing in her “Better Writing at Work” e-zine.

For example, if you wanted to introduce 12 new employees, group them thematically, by department or region, she says.

3.  Keep bullets brief and clear. After all, you’re using bullets to help your reader. If you want to use lengthy sentences, opt for paragraphs. Gaertner-Johnston says three lines per bullet is the max.

Bonus tip: Use bullets to break down a big idea. They can also be helpful to prove a point, relay a string of data, break up a text-heavy document, or make dry information appear more interesting.

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