Stop using bullet pointsFebruary 3rd, 2017Cristiano Betta2 minute read

I got bit annoyed last year at DevRelCon London when I noticed that so many truly talented people were using so many bullet points in such horrible ways.

For a group of public speakers I have to say the slides have been a bit dry at #DevRelCon so far. Lots of bullet points.

Cristiano (@cbetta) December 7, 2016

I have to admit I was being a bit rude, for which I apologise. I also wasn't being very constructive, so let's fix that.

What is a bullet point?

When we talk about bullet points we often think about the symbol preceding a sentence. That symbol is actually just the "bullet" and there are a few variations:

• Bullet
‣ Triangular bullet
◦ White bullet
⁃ Hyphen

See Wikipedia for more details

It is actually the entire sentence that accompanies the symbol that makes up a bullet point. The bullet attracts specific attention to these often short sentences.

Bullet points are used to draw attention to important information within a document so that a reader can identify the key issues and facts quickly. -- Oxford English Dictionary

In other words, bullet points are a tool that is used to draw specific attention to a list of items that belong together.

When can I use bullet points?

You can use bullet points whenever you want! Don't let me tell you what to do. But if you care the slightest about making sure your ideas come across in a presentation I'd stick with the following guidance.

You can use bullet points to:

  • List items that belong together
  • Draw attention to the list
  • Potentially introduce each item one at a time

In other words, the list above is a pretty good example.

When should I not use bullet points?

As you might have noticed by now I definitely don't want to stop you from using bullet points. They're fine, really, use them.

For the sake of reference here are some common mistakes though:

  • You use your bullet points to just introduce idea after idea
  • It's almost like you actually wanted to have more than one slide
  • And the bullet points don't really form a coherent list either, they're not items that fit together.
  • And really if you think about it the content in each point is way too long. It's like you just took your speaker notes and copy pasted them into a slide. It looks lazy. Really.
  • And finally you read out exactly what's in your bullet points, making them less bullet and more missile points

In other words, much like this list above.

Did this help?

It did for me, I had to get this off my chest. Let me know what you think in the comments below.