Copy tips 006: Act in parallel

Bulleted lists are a core element of scannability. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that everything that can be listed should be bulleted.

 Copy tips 006: Act in parallel

Bulleted lists are a core element of scannability. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that everything that can be listed should be bulleted. It would be odd, for instance, to employ bullets to express a sentiment like this:

I’m leaving you because:

  • you’re selfish
  • I hate you
  • I’ve met someone else

Rather like PowerPoint slides, bulleted lists are deceptively simple. For this reason, perhaps, they’re easy to overdo.

An effective cluster of bullets is a family. It gathers together nuggets of content which have the same relation to each other (eg parts of a whole, alternative options). Ideally you want no more than 5 or 6. (Nielsen has found, incidentally, that the first and last bullets get read most – so the middle bullet point is the place to bury bad news…). 

A subtle error that can creep into bullet use appears here:

The benefits of mentoring include:

  • increased self-confidence
  • stronger sense of making a difference
  • greater insight into community issues
  • improve communication skills

Spot it? The last bullet is grammatically inconsistent with the others. Each of the bulleted bits of copy should be a grammatically plausible ending for the sentence introduced above the list. But sometimes, by the time we get to the end of the list, we’ve forgotten what our starting-point was, and the bullets stop being grammatically parallel, making them slightly harder to process.  

So here, to be grammatically parallel, all the bullets need to be noun phrases eg:

The benefits of mentoring include:

  • increased self-confidence
  • stronger sense of making a difference
  • greater insight into community issues
  • improved communication skills