Bullets

Rules and Examples


Punctuation marksBullets are most commonly used in the English language to highlight key points in a vertical list. 

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Bullets are used in place of numbers when the order of the items in the list is not important.

There are many forms of bullets to choose from. The most common forms are the heavy black dot ( ● ) and the open circle ( ○ ).

Other common bullet choices include squares (filled and open), diamonds, dashes and checkmarks.

Numbered lists vs bulleted lists

Numbered lists


Numbered lists are used for recipes and other instructions because the order of the items is important.

Example:cooking
  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Blend at high speed for 2 minutes.
  3. Pour mixture into a large pan.
  4. Bake at 180 degrees for 50 minutes.

By using numbers, you are telling the reader that the list has to be completed in a specific order.

Bulleted lists


We use bullets in a vertical list when the order of items is not important. Bullets are a great way to highlight important information and key words and phrases.

Tips for using bullets

Introducing a bulleted list

1. A colon ( : ) is the most common way to introduce a bulleted list.

Examples:
  • Teachers must plan classroom activities, including:

  • Responsibilities:

  • To clean your oven:

2. In informal writing, an introductory sentence can end with a period or question mark if it is a complete sentence.

Examples:
  • What are the best jobs for college students?

  • There are many things to consider when shopping for a home.

  • Teachers have many duties before and after school.

3. Do not introduce a bulleted list with a semicolon or comma.

Incorrect:

The secretary has many responsibilities;

Correct:

The secretary has many responsibilities:

Incorrect:

Our chores after school include,

Correct:

Our chores after school include:

vacuum

All items in a bulleted list should follow the same form

A) Begin each bullet with the same part of speech (noun, verb, adjective)

It is very common to use action verbs (also known as dynamic verbs) to begin each item in a bulleted list.

Examples:

House Cleaning Tips:
  • Remove items from shelves before dusting.
  • Vacuum windowsills and corners with a vacuum hose.
  • Clean windows with a newspaper and cleaning solution.
  • Dust all ceiling fans and lights.
cleaning house

B) Items in the list should be in the same grammatical format (a word, phrase, or complete sentence), and should follow the same grammatical structure.

Correct:

This year in mathematics, we learned:
  • double-digit addition
  • double-digit subtraction
  • single-digit multiplication
  • long division
In the above example, all items are written in a similar format and follow the same grammatical structure.

They do not start with a verb and they are all dependent clauses.

None of the items are capitalized.


Incorrect:

This year in mathematics, we learned:
  • to add
  • double-digit subtraction
  • multiplying single numbers
  • We learned how to do long division in school.
In the above example, the items are not written in the same format, and they do not follow the same gramamtical structure.

They each begin differently and the final bullet is the only one that is written as a complete sentence with a capital letter.

professor

When to use periods with bulleted lists

A) Use periods after complete sentences or independent clauses

Independent clauses are phrases that can stand as complete sentences.

Example:
Classroom Rules:
  • Clean up after yourself.
  • Respect others.
  • Listen to the teacher.
  • Complete assignments on time.
  • Raise your hand to ask a question.

student

B) Do not use periods if the bullets are short phrases or dependent clauses

Dependent clauses
are phrases that cannot stand by themselves. They are not complete sentences.

Examples:

We have narrowed down the list of names for our new puppy:
  • Sparky
  • Fido
  • Ace
  • Browny
  • Sam
I have many chores when I get home from work:
  • feeding horses
  • watering dogs
  • gathering eggs
  • taking out trash
taking out the trash

These were the uses of bullets. Now that you know them, it is time to practice! Read and do exercises.

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