This writing guide follows on from my previous writing guide, How to Structure Bullet Point Lists and focuses on when to use bullet points and when to use paragraphs. Although the difference between the two is obvious, some writers create unwieldy bullet points (see Figure 1) that would serve better as a paragraph or write dense paragraphs that could serve the reader better if presented as bullet point lists.
Before a comparison between the two can be made, the information must be in a form of a list or be easily converted into a list, and this is usually possible if a paragraph has the structure of a statement, followed by examples.
The following example could be written as either a paragraph or a bullet-point list.
“Technical communicators can create technical information for new products or update existing information. They might research or test a product to interpret and test technical information or specifications. Some tasks include working with or interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs) to extract information and uncover the missing details that a user might need to know.” (Fromhttps://www.astc.org.au/about-technical-communications)
In this example, the introductory element is: “Technical communicators can create technical information for new products or update existing information.”Everything else in the paragraph are examples of these tasks.
With minimal changes, this could be rewritten into a bullet-point list as follows:
Technical communicators can create technical information for new products or update existing information. Some tasks may include:
research or test a product to interpret
test technical information or specifications
work with or interview subject matter experts (SMEs) to extract information and uncover the missing details that a user might need to know.
Some factors to consider when choosing to write paragraphs or bullet point lists
1. The length of your sentences
If your sentences are:
- long, bullet points might be easier to read.
- short and there are a few of them, paragraphs may be just as easy to read as a bullet point list.
2. The number of list items
- If you have more than three list items within a sentence, consider turning them into bullet point lists.
- If you have many list items (i.e. more than 8-10), they may be difficult to read as either bullet point lists or paragraphs. If you do have very lengthy lists, consider using a table instead.
3. The number of bullet point lists in your document
The number and placement of bullet point lists affects the layout and presentation of your document. Too many successive bullet point lists may be difficult to read. If most of your document does consist of bullet point lists, try turning some into paragraphs to help break up the text. Be mindful that if you write bullet point lists within bullet point lists (also known as multilevel lists) make sure they are not difficult to read.
4. The size and number of your paragraphs
If you have many large paragraphs within a document, turning some into bullet point lists will help break up the text. Also consider breaking up large paragraphs into smaller paragraphs.
If you have many small paragraphs, then bullet point lists may not be necessary. Sometimes I find that if a document has lots of small (single sentence) paragraphs, then it ends up looking like a continuous bullet point list anyway.
Finally, don’t forget that the layout of your document influences its’ readability. So consider:
- What is the best way to effectively arrange your paragraphs and bullet point lists within your document?
- What is the best way to incorporate paragraphs and bullet point lists with other important features such as figures, tables, images and headings.
© Dr Marina Hurley 2021 www.writingclearscience.com.au
Any suggestions or comments please firstname.lastname@example.org
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Should I use bullet points or paragraphs? ›
If you have many large paragraphs within a document, turning some into bullet point lists will help break up the text. Also consider breaking up large paragraphs into smaller paragraphs. If you have many small paragraphs, then bullet point lists may not be necessary.Do bulleted lists count as paragraphs? ›
The items in a bullet list are usually separate paragraphs. That is, each item is ended by a paragraph mark, so it is a paragraph. Similarly, a heading is usually ended by a paragraph mark, so it is a paragraph.Why is it important to use features like bullet points or paragraphs? ›
The effective use of bullet points in business writing can help highlight important information, direct the reader to themed lists, and improve a document's overall readability.What is a disadvantage of using bulleted lists in reports? ›
Bullet points, when overused, can detract from the goal of your document. If all of your information is bulleted, your audience may not understand which information is most important.Are paragraphs necessary? ›
Paragraphs play an important role in writing because they provide a framework for organising your ideas in a logical order. Using a clear structure for your paragraphs helps guide the reader through your written work.What are the rules for using paragraphs? ›
- When you begin a new idea or point. New ideas should always start in new paragraphs. ...
- To contrast information or ideas. ...
- When your readers need a pause. ...
- When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion.
A paragraph usually deals with a single idea. In general, you'll have an introductory sentence expressing that idea, and several supporting sentences to round it off. Paragraphs are usually about 100 – 200 words long, but there are more exceptions to this rule-of-thumb than you'd expect.What is counted as a paragraph? ›
A paragraph is a group of sentences that fleshes out a single idea. In order for a paragraph to be effective, it must begin with a topic sentence, have sentences that support the main idea of that paragraph, and maintain a consistent flow.How do you turn bullet points into paragraphs? ›
- Select the Bullets To Text Feature. Select the Bullets to Text from the list of features.
- Select Language and Input the Bullets. ...
- Generate Text from Bullet Points. ...
- Here's Your Text.
To draw visual attention to items in a list without implying that items go in a certain order (e.g., chronology, importance, priority), use a bulleted list. Use a numbered list if you want to display items in a numbered series. Use a lettered list if you want to emphasize separate parallel items within a sentence.
Why would you use a bulleted list in text? ›
Bulleted lists are useful when you want to create a list that stands out from the text without implying a certain chronology or ordering of the items. Lists help the reader identify the key points in the text. However, cluttered and inconsistent bulleted lists can lead to the opposite result.Why are bulleted lists easier to read? ›
Not only is a bulleted list more visually appealing than a solid wall of text, but it helps the reader by breaking a complex chunk of information down into simpler elements.What should I use instead of bullet points? ›
Icons are an effective replacement for bullet points. Icons use the same methods that images do, in that there is an element that the audience can tag the message to. There are several stock sites where icons can be found.Are bullet points unprofessional? ›
Don't overuse them or it makes your paper look unprofessional and detracts from the importance of the lists you want the reader to truly comprehend. Bullets and numbers can be used with listings, examples, or to shorten a complex description.When would it be most appropriate to use bullet points as part of a documents layout? ›
Bulleted lists work best when they include related items. The items should share a similar level of importance. When possible, write bullet items to be approximately the same length, so that one doesn't overpower another.Do people still indent paragraphs? ›
APA requires most paragraphs to adhere to first line indentation. Hanging indentation places the first line of a paragraph to the left of where the next line starts. APA recommends using hanging indentation for reference lists. Writers should manually set the reference position for indents to .Is 2 paragraphs enough for an essay? ›
No rule says an essay needs to have a certain number of paragraphs, but an essay must be at least three paragraphs. Many people say an essay should be five paragraphs, but it's an extremely limiting rule, and unless you've been instructed to write a five-paragraph essay, there's no reason to stick to it.What are the 5 elements of a paragraph? ›
A good paragraph has five basic elements: a topic, a topic sentence, supporting sentences, unity and coherence.What is the most effective paragraph structure? ›
Good paragraphs begin with a topic sentence that briefly explains what the paragraph is about. Next come a few sentences for development and support, elaborating on the topic with more detail. Paragraphs end with a conclusion sentence that summarizes the topic or presents one final piece of support to wrap up.What should be avoided while writing a paragraph? ›
Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
What is the three paragraph rule? ›
A good introduction to a research paper can be as short as 3 paragraphs. It requires convincing people that your issue is important (paragraph 1), explaining what information gaps are still out there (paragraph 2), and demonstrating that your paper will at least partially fill one or more of those gaps (paragraph 3).How many sentences is 1 paragraph? ›
In academic writing, most paragraphs include at least three sentences, though rarely more than ten.How many sentences should be in a paragraph? ›
Aim for three to five or more sentences per paragraph. Include on each page about two handwritten or three typed paragraphs. Make your paragraphs proportional to your paper. Since paragraphs do less work in short papers, have short paragraphs for short papers and longer paragraphs for longer papers.How long should a full paragraph be? ›
Various educators teach rules governing the length of paragraphs. They may say that a paragraph should be 100 to 200 words long, or be no more than five or six sentences. But a good paragraph should not be measured in characters, words, or sentences. The true measure of your paragraphs should be ideas.Does 2 sentences count as a paragraph? ›
There is no absolute rule for how many sentences a paragraph must have. A paragraph can have two to three sentences, but the typical maximum number is five sentences to be considered a good paragraph.What words are not counted in paragraphs? ›
Tables, diagrams (including associated legends), appendices, references, footnotes and endnotes, the bibliography and any bound published material are excluded from the word count.How do you format paragraphs as numbered and bulleted lists? ›
To start a numbered list, type 1, a period (.), a space, and some text. Word will automatically start a numbered list for you. Type* and a space before your text, and Word will make a bulleted list. To complete your list, press Enter until the bullets or numbering switch off.How do you format text into paragraphs? ›
Use the Paragraph dialog box (Alt+H, PG) to format paragraphs. You can set formatting for text alignment, indents, line spacing, line breaks, and paragraph breaks. You donâ€™t have to select a paragraph to format it; just click to place the insertion point within a paragraph.How can you insert Bullets and numbering for the text or paragraphs? ›
- On the View tab, click Normal.
- Click in the text box or placeholder where you want to add bulleted or numbered text.
- On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, click Bullets or Numbering. , and begin typing your list. Press Return to create a new list item.
Bullet points are essential and imperative in writing experiences. Bullet points are used together with sub-paragraphs in most academic essays in the effective delivery and better comprehension among the readers.
Should bullets be sentences? ›
Rules of Bullet Point Punctuation
There are only two essential rules of punctuation you need to know since a bullet can be a single word or single phrase, sentence fragment, or complete sentence and still be considered grammatically correct in its usage.
Use a bulleted list for items that do not have to be in a specific order. Use a numbered list for items that must be in a specific order, such as steps or a timeline of events.Should you indent bulleted lists? ›
Use Word's bulleted list function to create the list. List items should be double-spaced and indented . 5 inch. If complete sentences, begin each list item with a capital letter as you would a regular sentence and insert final punctuation (usually a period) at the end of each list item.What are the bullet rules? ›
Use a period after bullet list that completes the opening stem sentence that introduces it. Don't use a period after bullet lists that are not complete sentences or do not complete the opening stem sentence. Don't use semicolons to end punctuation. Use either all full sentences in your bullet lists or all fragments.How do I make a list more readable? ›
Adjust spacing before, after, and within lists to enhance readability. Avoid having a list of information all scrunched up into a dense block of text; this defeats the purpose of enhancing readability. Capitalize the first letter of each list item.Is it OK to not have bullet points on resume? ›
Bullet points should absolutely be used on your resume, and will not make you look lazy. Instead, they will help draw recruiters or hiring managers' attention to important points while allowing them to read through your resume faster.Is 5 bullet points on resume too much? ›
A good benchmark is between 3-5 bullet points per job. However, you can use as few as 2 bullet points or as many as 12 bullet points for each position as long as it's relevant to the job description. The number of bullet points you use typically depends on: Years of work experience.What are the pros and cons of using bullets or text in paragraph form on a resume? ›
Bullets make it easier for an employer to read a resume, but the disadvantage of using bullets is that they are often improperly used. Some job candidates choose to use bullet points for nearly every sentence, which makes reading the resume overwhelming for the employer.Should I use bullet points or paragraphs on resume? ›
One of the age-old questions of resume writing is, should a resume have bullet points or paragraphs? The verdict is in: Resumes should be written using bullet points.How do you write a list in a paragraph example? ›
Run-In Lists: These are discoursed within the paragraphs of your writing and are usually separated with semicolons and initiated with a colon. Here's an example: My dog has three hobbies: (1) chewing his squeaky toy; (2) begging for treats; and (3) running around in circles at the dog park.
Do you use paragraphs in an essay? ›
The body of the essay should be organised into paragraphs. Each paragraph should deal with a different aspect of the issue, but they should also link in some way to those that precede and follow it.Is it proper to indent paragraphs in an essay? ›
Indentation: The first line of each paragraph should be indented. According to the MLA, this indentation should be 1/2 inch or five spaces, but pressing [Tab] once should give you the correct indentation.Is it OK to use bullet points in an essay? ›
Yes, an essay can be written in bullet points, but this depends upon the type of essay you are going to write. If it is a narrative essay, then you should mention a story with the use of points. If it is an argumentative essay, then you can present your arguments in points.Is it appropriate to use bullet points in an essay? ›
Bullet points are essential and imperative in writing experiences. Bullet points are used together with sub-paragraphs in most academic essays in the effective delivery and better comprehension among the readers.What is the correct paragraph format? ›
The basic paragraph consists of three parts: a topic sentence, supporting details, and a concluding sentence. This basic paragraph format will help you to write and organize a paragraph and make each paragraph lead to the next.What is proper paragraph structure? ›
Good paragraphs begin with a topic sentence that briefly explains what the paragraph is about. Next come a few sentences for development and support, elaborating on the topic with more detail. Paragraphs end with a conclusion sentence that summarizes the topic or presents one final piece of support to wrap up.How many paragraphs should a good essay have? ›
Arguably the most common essay format is the standard five-paragraph essay. This essay devotes a paragraph each to the introduction, conclusion, and three different supporting details.When should you not indent a paragraph? ›
As remarked above, the first paragraph after a title or section heading is not indented. Every succeeding paragraph should be indented; the tab key on any keyboard will do this for you. For certain kinds of writing, such as technical reports and business letters, there is another format which is sometimes preferred.Should paragraphs be double spaced? ›
Double space between all lines of text, including between regular text and block quotations, between paragraphs, and between a heading and subsequent text. Use Microsoft Word's double-space line feature rather than manually created line spacing. Do not add additional space above or below the lines of text.Should the first word in a paragraph be indented? ›
The Chicago Manual of Style
Chicago recommends that writers indent the first line of a new paragraph by hitting the tab key. You hit the tab key between three and seven times to provide the proper space between the first line and the left margin.
What should you never do when writing an essay? ›
- Fail to address the question's topic in your introduction. ...
- Stray from the focus of the question (especially in the conclusion) ...
- Insert quotes without introducing them or relating them back to the topic. ...
- Fail to provide references. ...
- Use informal language, colloquialisms, or overuse rhetorical questions.
3. Which of these should be avoided in a good essay? Explanation: A good essay must have a dignified and literary style. It cannot have slang, colloquial terms and free constructions.When should bulleted lists be used? ›
To draw visual attention to items in a list without implying that items go in a certain order (e.g., chronology, importance, priority), use a bulleted list. Use a numbered list if you want to display items in a numbered series.How many sentences should be in a bullet point? ›
each bullet is short (no more than one sentence) you use lower case at the start of the bullet point, unless it starts with a proper noun. you do not use full stops within bullet points – where possible start another bullet point or use commas, dashes or semicolons to expand.How do you convert bullet points to paragraphs? ›
Put your cursor in the paragraph, right-click, and choose Convert Bullets/Numbering to Text.