Who would’ve thunk it—such ballyhoo about bullet points! It seems content writers either love or absolutely abhor those little black dots.
Representing the critics, Ken Lopez, in The Litigation Consulting Report, lists no fewer than 12 reasons bullet points are bad news, especially for trial graphics. He’d much rather see lawyers actually speaking to the jury, rather than showing them text-heavy presentations riddled with bullet points. Here’s a few examples from his post:
1. People read faster than they hear — 150 words per minute spoken vs. 275 words per minute reading. People will read your bullets before you can say them and stop listening.
6. The more you use bullets the more people will judge you as outdated.
10. Remember, if you are using bullet points, people are likely to tune you out as boring when you most want them to be paying attention.
An author with Presentation Advisors is equally antipathetic towards bullet points in slideshow presentations. PowerPoint and Prezi, he says, aren’t text-based media, but are there to support the information coming out of a speaker’s mouth. What’s more, he gripes, when we use bullets, we tend to lump ideas together on the same slide without giving any one of those ideas a chance to shine.
As a business blogger, I’m kind of partial to bullet points, and from what I’ve been told, Google and the other search engines like them, too. Online searchers who’ve found our blog posts, remember, aren’t getting the information out of our mouths–we have only our written words, with perhaps some charts or pictures, to engage their attention.
That lists and bullet points are generally a good fit for blogs is something I actually stress in corporate blogging training sessions. What I’ve found over the years is that lists help keep readers—and writers—on track.
Susan Gunelius (“20 Ideas for Writing a Blog Post”) apparently agrees. She suggests starting with a number, then taking it from there, with. Top 10 lists, 5 things not to do, 3 reasons I love something, etc. These suggestions include:
04 of 20: Photos
Post a photo (or photos) related to your blog topic.
05 of 20: Link Roundup
Write a post that includes a list of links to other blog posts that published great posts or to websites you like.
06 of 20: Current Events
What’s going on in the world? Write a post about an interesting bit of news.
07 of 20: Tips
Write a post to share tips to help your readers accomplish something in an easier, faster or cheaper way.
08 of 20: Recommendations
Share recommendations for your favorite books, websites, movies, or other “favorites” related to your blog topic.
It’s not just online content or presentations, of course. If you’re a fan of late night talk shows, you probably know about David Letterman. His Top Ten Lists were such an effective way of organizing content that, when the talk show host first moved to CBS, NBC unsuccessfully tried to claim ownership of the idea.
Like anything else, of course, bullet points can be both poorly used and over-used. Using parallelism is a good rule, beginning each bullet point with the same part of speech and using the same grammatical form throughout.
And the StackExchange site for Writing has some wisdom to add in this post: “Bullet points are visually attractive and make it easy for a reader to locate important information. Nevertheless, try to use them sparingly: too many bullet-pointed sections in the same document will mean that their impact is lost.”
Those little back dots have their uses in blogging for business!