Bullet Points – Rules, Usage, and Examples

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Bullet points help create key points to grab a reader’s attention and work on clarifying and directing the main point. They can summarize, provide directions, highlight main points, and offer an easy-to-follow structure for the reader to follow. 

Take a look at how you can use bullet points to enhance your text’s readability and structure your material. Our guide below offers rules, usage, and examples of bullet points used to help highlight the best ways to include these symbols in your writing. 

What Are Bullet Points?

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Bullet points are typographical marks or symbols that introduce items in a list. Usually, a bullet point is represented by a centered dot (•), but there are different forms of bullets to pick from based on the writer’s preference. 

For example, a diamond (♦), diamond cluster (❖), an arrow (➢), and square (■) are other popular bullet point types that can be used. These can also be used to create a sub-bullet or nested bullet point following an initial bulleted idea. The important thing is to be consistent when using a different type of bullet and not to mix them up, which negates their entire purpose.  

How to Use Bullet Points That Work 

Bullet points are a great way to communicate information effectively. They provide a quick way to get the reader’s attention and offer scannable content to help make significant points that don’t require reading long blocks of text. 

Bulleted items help to engage readers by offering a quick presentation of the main ideas and information. They can also be used to present and summarize essential points quickly and efficiently, especially if you have a scanning reader who wants to see the main points before determining if they want to read the rest of the text. 

To Summarize

If you have presented a long or complicated argument in your text or provided a series of directions and information points, bullets can be used to summarize these ideas. 

For example:

To wrap it up, studying before an exam is a much better than cramming the night before. To make this effective, you should do the following:

  • Gather all your study materials, notes, and text one week in advance
  • Organize materials by level of difficulty
  • Spend 15 to 20 minutes each night reviewing materials
  • Review all main points the night before the exam 

To Provide a Fascination

A fascinating bullet is specific to points in a text that create curiosity and engage a reader, especially when bullets are used to highlight a product. They occasionally can be used as a headline (called external fascinations) or to highlight the information you want to stand out (internal fascinations). 

To List Items

Making lists with bullet points is useful when listing items separately to avoid confusing them with the rest of the words in a text block. Recipes, for example, provide ingredients that work well in bulleted form to help the reader quickly see what they need to have. 

For example:

To make this recipe, you will need the following:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • butter
  • sugar

To Highlight Main Points

Bullets are a great way to highlight or reiterate the main points of a text. They help emphasize information and remind the reader what they should be paying attention to. 

For example:

In order to be successful, you want to consider the following steps to ensure financial stability:

  • Pay off all debt
  • Keep three months’ worth of bill payments in savings
  • Invest a percentage of your check each month

To List Directions

Whether giving directions to a location or instructions to complete a task, a list with bullet points can help create a step-by-step guide that is easy to follow. 

For example:

To finish glazing the cake, follow these steps:

  1. Mix the sugar, flavoring, and water together in a bowl
  2. Remove cake from oven
  3. Immediately pour ¾ of the glaze over the hot cake
  4. Allow to cool 
  5. Drizzle the remaining glaze over the top

Rules of Bullet Point Use

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Using bullets are easy, but there are some basic bullet point style rules to remember when you include them in your writing. The majority of style guides, such as MLA or APA are consistent in their directions of bulleted use as well, but always double-check if you are constricted by guide rules. 

Use an Introductory Phrase or Sentence

Before using bullets, always be sure to first provide an introductory sentence or phrase to provide the reader context. It is important to provide this information as an explanation of why the material is being pulled from the rest of the text. 

For example:

The pet shop sells a variety of rare animals. Some of their most popular include:

  • Baby skunks
  • Sulfur Crested Cockatiels
  • Hedgehogs

Create Parallel Lists 

Parallelism is a way to keep your sentence structure grammatically consistent from one sentence to the next. The same should be applied when using bullets. Always begin your bullets with the same parts of speech and maintain the same grammatical structure for symmetrical content that is easy to read. 

For example:

She listed all the issues her students were having with bullet point format in essay examples.

  • Forgetting to capitalize the first word
  • Listing things out of order
  • Mixing partial sentences with single words

Keep a Consistent Structure

Along with using parallel lists, also keep a consistent phrase or sentence structure. Be sure to use the same tense from one bullet to the next, and do not mix long and short sentences. If you use sentence fragments, make sure all the bullets are fragments. The same goes for complete sentences. 

Keep Ideas Simple

If you choose to bullet a complete or fragmented sentence, you should keep it simple and short. Remember to keep a consistent structure and use parallelism. 

For example:

The entire family went to different places for vacation last year:

  • Aunt Rita traveled to Bali to complete her bucket list.
  • Mom and Dad decided on an all-inclusive cruise.
  • Mike went to a lake and fished by himself. 

Rules of Bullet Point Punctuation

There are only two essential rules of punctuation you need to know since a bullet can be a single word or single phrase, sentence fragment, or complete sentence and still be considered grammatically correct in its usage. 

Capitalization Should Stay Consistent

Generally, it would be best to always capitalize the first word following the bullet. However, you may keep single words in lowercase letters if you choose. Just stay consistent from one bullet to the next when using capital letters.

Punctuation is Reserved for Complete Sentences Only

Most bullets are single words, phrases, and sentence fragments. These do not need to be punctuated. If you are using complete sentences, you should always keep the punctuation consistent.

For example, a complete sentence should be properly punctuated with commas, colons, semicolons, and ending marks such as periods or questions marks. 

Words, phrases, and sentence fragments should not be punctuated. 

What is the Difference Between Bullet Points and Numbers?

Some people use numbers when listing information, but this isn’t always the best choice, and you should be aware of the specific uses that provide the best scenario for number use. 

To use a numbered list, you should consider if there is a specific order to the information you are highlighting, such as directions or action items. This is especially helpful for blogging and article type writing scenarios that include recipes or step by step guidelines. 

Otherwise, always use a bulleted list. These are a more versatile option overall and work to share content, improve readability, and draw attention to important information. 

Let’s Review

The most effective bullets highlight important information and bring attention to the major points of a text. They help with readability and clarity and can be used to list directions or provide summaries. 

Occasionally numbers can be used in place of a bullet point or symbol, but be sure to use numbers with information that should be listed in a specific order. 

It is common to capitalize the first word following bullet point usage; however, you may keep the word lowercase if it is a singular word. Punctuation is reserved for complete sentences only.