The Right Way to Use Bullet Points

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A mark of punctuation (•) commonly used in business writing and technical writing to introduce items in a list (or series) is known as a bullet point.

As a general rule, when creating lists, use bullet points to identify items of equal importance; use numbers for items with different degrees of value, listing the most important one first.

Examples and Observations:

  • "Bullets (•) mark items in a list. If a sentence follows the bullet, place a period at its end. Words and phrases that follow bullets need no ending punctuation. It is never necessary to place the conjunction and before the [last] item in a bulleted list."
    (M. Strumpf and A. Douglas, The Grammar Bible. Owl, 2004)
  • The idea is simply to end by design rather than default, and any of the following practices will help:
    • In your notes, keep track of potentially dramatic closing materials.
    • Hold one of your best examples or anecdotes for the closing.
    • Allow space for a developed ending.
    • Commit to a closing worthy of the piece.
    • Avoid the drift toward a clichéd ending.
    (Arthur Plotnik, Spunk & Bite. Random House, 2005)
  • Tips on Using Bullets
    "When you don't mean to imply that one thing in a list is any more important than another--that is, when you're not signaling a rank order--and when there is little likelihood that the list will need to be cited, you might use bullet dots. They enhance readability by emphasizing salient points. . . .

    "Here are . . . more tips on using bullets well: (1) end your introduction with a colon, which serves as an anchor; (2) keep the items grammatically parallel (see PARALLELISM)."
    (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford Univ. Press, 2003)
  • Parallelism
    "The most common problem with bulleted lists is an absence of parallel construction. If the first bulleted item is a declarative sentence in the present tense, the rest should also be declarative sentences in the present tense. Each item must be a continuation of the introductory sentence . . .."
    (Bill Walsh, Lapsing Into a Comma. Contemporary Books, 2000)
  • Using Bullets Effectively
    - "The most effective communication at work is not the bulky memo, but the bullet-riddled PowerPoint presentation, which people from varied nationalities can absorb in very little time."
    (A. Giridharadas, "Language as a Blunt Tool of the Digital Age." The New York Times, Jan. 17, 2010)

    - "For public speakers, bullet points serve as prompts to extemporaneous speech, and are often more useful than a complete text. On the printed page, bullets 'break up the gray,' as we say in the world of publishing. They give the eye 'relief.'

    "The key to making good use of bullet points is to make sure the elements on your list hang together. If you're writing about 'Six Things You Should Do Before Shopping for a Good Used Car,' make sure you give your readers or listeners six things they should do, not four things plus a snarky observation about used-car salesmen and a nostalgic whine about what a gem your old Mustang was. . . .

    "If your material isn't really a collection of comparable elements, then bullets are probably not the best presentation. After all, a paragraph lets you mix things up a bit: a declarative sentence here, a rhetorical question there, maybe even a brief list. A paragraph is better than bullets for putting elements into more complex relationships."
    (Ruth Walker, "We Speak Nowadays in a Hail of Bullets." The Christian Science Monitor, February 9, 2011)