How to Write a Better Bullet Point List

Haley Larsen
Post by Haley Larsen
Originally published February 15, 2021, updated August 24, 2021
How to Write a Better Bullet Point List

Bulleted lists allow you to share information in a memorable, succinct way. Here are three tried-and-true tips that can help you write compelling bullet points and strengthen your business writing.

1. Identify the right information.

Not all types of information are right for a list. In fact, too many bulleted lists in an email or report will distort your ideas and potentially even bore your reader. So, work to strike a balance between bulleted items and explanatory paragraphs. This creates a satisfying reading rhythm for your audience — whether you’re writing a blog post or an annual report. 

Here are the kinds of information best suited to a bulleted list:

  • Key takeaways from an article, report, or white paper
  • Main points from a meeting or sales presentation
  • Data from a specific report, case study, or survey

2. Start with a compelling, comprehensive lead-in statement.

All bullet points should have a lead-in statement that contextualizes every point on the list. Typically, you should include a colon after your lead-in statement.

As you write your bullets, if you find that one of them doesn’t fit with the lead-in statement, you should leave it off. Find another place to share that information. 

Each bullet point should complete or respond to the lead-in statement. For example, in the above list, each item is a kind of information that can be shared in a list, so they all belong together in one list. 

You can also lead-in with half of a sentence — and let each bullet point complete that sentence. When you do this, it’s best to include punctuation on each list item. Here’s an example:

Every year, my family goes to San Diego to:

  • Swim in the Pacific ocean.
  • Hang out with our cousins.
  • Eat at our favorite restaurants.
  • Visit the amazing zoo.

See how each bulleted item completes the sentence above? 

“Every year, my family goes to San Diego to visit the amazing zoo.” 

You can also create a bulleted list where each item is an individual sentence. Here’s an example of that strategy.

For tomorrow’s meeting, I recommend that you all prepare in these ways:

  1. Read through the creative brief the client emailed us last week.
  2. Take notes on the provided research articles, which were part of that email.
  3. Pull work from our shared files that relate to this project.
  4. Compile your thoughts in a one-page document to bring to our meeting.

Here, I’ve used numbers instead of bullet points because these actions are best taken in this particular order. 

I’ve also made sure that each bullet starts the same way: with a verb. This creates consistency and makes our bullets “parallel,” which is our final tip. 

3. Keep each bullet parallel. 

Remember how I said each item on your bulleted list should fit in with the others? That’s one way to keep a list “parallel” in concept, so your reader won’t be confused.

It would not make sense, for example, if the final item in the list didn’t follow the same pattern by leading with a verb. 

  1. Read through the creative brief the client emailed us last week.
  2. Take notes on the provided research articles, which were part of that email.
  3. Pull work from our shared files that seems to relate to this project as inspiration.
  4. Meeting is on Thursday, so come prepared.

See how jarring it is when the list suddenly changes from a list of actions to a statement? It also creates a grammatical problem. 

Let me explain. 

Grammatically, it’s necessary to start each bullet the same way — with a verb, ideally. In the above example, where each item is a sentence all its own, notice that the first bolded word of each point is a verb. This kind of construction is so helpful for your reader, as it essentially creates a miniature “to-do” list for them, as they read. They know, at a glance, they need to make time for reading, taking notes, pulling examples, and compiling ideas. 

What happens if your bullets aren’t parallel? Grammatical mayhem ensues! And this can be very confusing for you and your readers. 

A few more tips.

Okay, so now you know the basics for creating a better bullet point list. You’ve learned to:

  1. Identify the right kinds of information for a bulleted list.
  2. Start with a comprehensive lead-in statement.
  3. Keep every point in your list parallel.

Here are a few more best practices to help you hone your craft and write bulleted lists that do everything you need them to do. 

  • Keep each point around the same length. If every other item is just 3 words, don’t include a 10-word item in the same list.
  • Use straightforward, simplified language. Bullet points distill, rather than describe. Save the lengthy stuff for paragraphs. Avoid jargon.
  • Number items when order matters. If the ideas must go in a certain order, use numbers instead of circle or square bullets.
  • Punctuate bullets consistently. Capitalize the first letter, use a colon after the lead-in statement, and use or don’t use an ending period correctly.

Did we answer all your burning bullet point questions? If not, use the contact us page to request our next blog topic.

Happy writing!

Haley Larsen
Post by Haley Larsen
Originally published February 15, 2021, updated August 24, 2021
Haley is a professional writer and content strategist with years of teaching experience. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in English from Purdue University, and earned her M.A. in Literature and Culture from Oregon State University. She has experience teaching academic research methods, college writing, and business writing — and loves them all. She enjoys helping learners from all industries improve their writing skills and find their voice. When she's not reading, you can find her doing yoga, watching football, or hiking the mountain trails above her home in Salt Lake City, Utah.