Dear WordCount is a weekly advice column answering your questions about writing, blogging and running a freelance business. Send questions to [email protected].
Any thoughts on using bullet lists in a feature article? – E.R.
Bullet lists are showing up in more types of articles, including features. The main reason is because they’re good for summarizing.
Bullet lists are favorites of freelancers – and editors – who work online because they can be used to create dense, meaty stories that cover a lot of ground in a short time, which is ideal when you only have 400 or 500 words to work with.
They’re also a good way to break up copy, which improves a page’s readability – at least according to the experts who make a living studying how people interact with material they see online.
But there are definitely right and wrong ways to use bullet lists. Here’s a few pointers:
1. Set up is important. Write a sentence or two setting up the list. Some examples of sentences that set up a list:
- “Here’s what else you need to know:”
- “Experts we talked to say to look out for the following:”
- “Color’s all over the place for fall. Here’s what else fashion watchers say to expect:”
2. Don’t forget the colon. Make sure to end your bullet list set-up sentence with a colon, which signals the reader to look out for a list to follow.
3. Use parallel structure. A list will read better if every item in it follows the same grammatical structure, including tense and voice. For example, in this bullet list of gardening activities each entry is an imperative, a verb that tells the reader to do something:
4. Use subheads. If each bullet point is going to be a sentence or longer, set it off with its own subhead. These miniature intros make each item easy to scan – and that’s a good thing because some readers will only read the subheads, or will read the subheads before deciding to continue onto the rest of the material. Each of the items in this list have subheads, and as you can see, I put then in bold to make them stand out even more.
5. Don’t make lists too long. If you’ve got 10 items in a list, you’re going to lose readers. Instead, consider grouping like items together to make a shorter list.
If you’ve using bullet lists in a story to save space, here’s did a blog post I did covering several other methods for writing tight: A few words about writing short