Friday, August 16, 2013

Using Bullet Points Effectively, Part 2: Bullets or Numbers?

When listing, the two common choices are bulleted or numbered points. (Lettered points are too academic for most people’s tastes.)

We bullet for one reason only: to show equality among the listed points. In the example below, the writer list the three points in order of increasing importance, but by bulleting those points, she implies that her listed reasons are of equal importance:

The directors chose Ambreen as a tax consultant for three reasons:
  • vast contacts on Capitol Hill
  • exceptional experience in international law
  • proven case record in the securities industry

We number for any of three reasons: to show priority, sequence, or reference. In this first example, the writer lets her readers know in the lead-in sentence that the numbered points appear in descending order of importance:

Ambreen recommends three precautionary measures, in preferential order:
  • Insure the property for $5 million.
  • Install burglar alarms at all external entrances and internal offices on the third floor.
  • Assign a security guard to the property 24/7.

In this next example, the writer informs the reader with the word steps that she is following a chronological order:

To obtain a security pass, Ambreen must follow these steps:
  1. Apply to IT Security for clearance.
  2. Create a temporary ID on our intranet.
  3. Request a permanent ID upon her first arrival in our office.

In this final example, the writer uses numbers because she and her reader will refer to the points by item number:

Ambreen will complete the following documents:
  1. Form 5500-EZ
  2. 1040 tax return
  3. NYC Form 202 exceptional experience in international law
Item 1 is due by December 31, and Items 2 and 3 are due by April 15.