The Art of Bullet-Pointing

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No, this is not an article about an SAS combat tactic. It’s about communication; though some might argue that pointing a gun at someone is a very strong form of communication.

Over the years, I have come to cherish the humble typographic bullet-point and to appreciate its power of clarity, particularly with regard to email communications. My reasons are as follows:Pen

  • When you have a number of points to make, it is far easier for your reader to absorb these when the points are broken down into a clear list form, rather than being jumbled together in a few paragraphs.
  • If you want to ask a number of different questions of your reader, again, it is far easier to list them with bullet-points than to weave them into an elaborate paragraph for your reader to pick apart.
  • Some people skim-read emails and in these instances it is very easy to miss an important point, in which case a bulleted list would make your individual comments more eye-catching.
  • The bulleted list, especially when numbered, is an immediate indication of how many points you are making or questions asking, and allows the reader to prepare an appropriate response to answer all of the points without missing anything.
  • The bullet-point is an indication of clarity and precision, and most readers will appreciate this, especially when covering a complicated or technical subject.
  • When communicating with a bad communicator – the type of person who uses one sentence replies to emails that justify a much more thorough response, or for that matter, the person who writes a novel when a simple two-word answer would’ve been adequate – the bulleted list can be a handy hint towards a best-practice method for the bad communicator to learn and follow.
  • Lastly, when communicating with people whose grasp of the English language is not especially fluent, a bulleted list makes the communication easier for them to understand and respond to.

So, I hope that I have made some clear and helpful observations about the power of the bullet-point. Of course, there are situations when a bulleted list would be most inappropriate, for example:

  • Happy birthday Dave!
  • You may be getting older, but we think you’re just increasing in value.
  • Best wishes and many happy returns.

Or, even worse:

  • We are sorry for your loss.
  • Dave was a great bloke and will be dearly missed.
  • By the way, I lent him a book three years ago that he never returned.
  • Any chance I can have it back now?

Still, I think you can see my point. Communication is in our genes, it’s what our civilisations are built on, and the bullet-point is a typographic tool that the Sumerians would’ve been proud of. Indeed, I imagine its history is ancient; a subject for another article perhaps.

Happy bulleting.

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