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Technical Writing – How to Use the Bulleted Lists Properly in Your Technical Document

© Ugur Akinci

Bulleted lists are important in technical writing. They summarize information in a manner that is easy to read and absorb. Use them whenever you can to get your information across quickly.

Bullets are ideal for things-to-do, equipment, sets, collections, cooking ingredients, and all kinds of other lists.

Compare:

“In winter months make sure to check your oil-tank, have enough wood for the fireplace, make sure there is are extra blankets for the guests, and the pump water is shut off.”

With bullets:

“Make sure to do the following to get ready for the winter:

- Check your oil-tank
- Have enough wood for the fireplace
- Keep extra blankets for the guests
- Shut off the pump water”

Another comparison: which list would you remember with less difficulty:

This one:

“A knowledge of mathematics, besides geometry, trigonometry and physics, is necessary for an civil engineer to know well.”

Or this?

“A civil engineer should know his

- mathematics
- geometry
- trigonometry
- physics

well.”

Technical Writing Bullets are great to list a collection of anything. (Public domain photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

But when you are drawing up a bulleted list try to use “parallel construction”; that is, the bullet items should be similar grammatically. They should have the same mood and tense. If one starts with a verb, the others should also start with a verb.

Malformed bulleted list:

“In my spare time, I love to

- go to a restaurant
- run 5K
- books are what I prefer over movies”

The first two items start with a verb, but the third doesn’t. Corrected list:

“In my spare time, I love to

- go to a restaurant
- run 5K
- read books rather than watch movies”

As you can see, now all items start with a direct action verb. It’s now easier to remember this list.

Another malformed example:

“All subscribers get

- one year’s worth of oil change
- you can have road-side assistance
- we’ll mail you any road map in stock
- up to two new tires a year.”

A better bulleted list would be:

“All subscribers get

- one year’s worth of oil change
- road-side assistance
- any road map in stock, mailed right away
- up to two new tires a year.”

To your organized success!

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