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The Write Stuff
February 2024 Volume 20 Issue 2

Dos and don’ts for bulleted lists

Using bullets, letters or numbers to write lists instead of lengthy sentences is smart—as long as you do it correctly. Here are a few dos and don’ts for using this reader-friendly way of writing.

  • DO introduce your list (as I did). It can be confusing for readers if you just plunge into your list without telling them what it entails.
  • DO consider using a list as an alternative to writing a sentence consisting of more than three elements—and DON’T simply add numbers or letters before each item (which only makes the sentence longer and clunkier).
  • DO make sure every clause in your list finishes the introductory sentence if you’re using that format.
    • Correct—Our firm has:
      • A focus on unparalleled customer service
      • Best-in-class products and services
      • A desire to continuously improve
    • Incorrect—Our firm has:
      • A focus on unparalleled customer service
      • Best-in-class products and services
      • All our team members work continuously to improve
  • DON’T use a combination of bullets, letters and numbers to create lists in the same document. I prefer bullets but if you prefer using 1, 2, 3, etc. or A, B, C, etc. that’s fine—just do it consistently.
  • DON’T overuse lists in any one document. If your copy consists of a bunch of lists separated by a sentence or two it will not read as robust or meaty but a bit light.

One last word about the bullet styles available in Microsoft Word. In most business writing scenarios I suggest staying simple and using the plain ol’ bullet. Think long and hard before choosing options like the Metallic Orb, Red Swirl or Stained Glass Ball unless they make sense based on your content and will thus add rather than detract from your message.

Happy Presidents’ Day

February 19 is Presidents’ Day. Not President’s Day or Presidents Day. Where the apostrophe is placed does make a difference—since the holiday commemorates the February birthdays of two presidents, Washington and Lincoln. I often see plural possessive mistakes made with regard to the word clients. If you write, “We put our client’s needs first and foremost,” that reflects having just one client. Change that to clients’ and you’re noting you have multiple clients, which is typically the case.

Think evergreen

I came across an excellent example of making sure writing is timely when I was asked to edit the bio of an employee new to a company. The clause, “I look forward to…” began one sentence. That language would certainly be appropriate for an introductory press release but this bio was to live on the company’s website. Thus, I changed it to, “I enjoy…”—instantly making it evergreen.

Published On: February 15th, 2024 / Categories: 2024 /

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