Friday, August 09, 2013

Using Bullet Points Effectively, Part 1: Listing Those Ands

A senior executive of a corporation once told me that she directed her associates to write in traditional paragraph form and to avoid using bullet points since they do not know how to use them. She was right about her staff composing illogical, unclear, inconsistent, or wordy bullet points; however, she was wrong in depriving them of this useful business tool for two reasons:
  • They probably would not know how to write effective paragraphs if they do not know how to use bullet points.
  • They can use bullet points to highlight key ideas for their readers.
In this and the next three posts, I will cover techniques for effectively using bullet points. Let’s start with why bullet points are so helpful by contrasting a traditional paragraph with a bullet list.


We are deferring our decision to terminate the consultant’s contract for three reasons. First, the new XYZ contract requires her technical skills, which no one in our team has. Also, she has deep experience in working with XYZ. In addition, we will be short-staffed when the XYZ contract begins in July because of vacation schedules.


We are deferring our decision to terminate the consultant’s contract for three reasons:
·         unmatched technical skills
·         deep XYZ experience
·         complete July availability

You might argue that the bulleted version omitted important detail from the paragraph version (i.e., the consultant’s technical skills are unmatched only on our team, and many of our staff will be on vacation in July). I would have no argument with this point. Nevertheless, the key information is easy to capture in the bullet list, and the bulleted word count is less than half that of the paragraph.

The point to remember here is that when you catch yourself using a bunch of words like and, also, in addition, and finally, you probably have an opportunity to list ideas, which will help them stand out. So list those ands.