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How to Wake Up Sleepy Bullet Points

I was reviewing writing samples for an upcoming business writing class when I found some bullet points that went flat–no power, no pizzazz. Their dullness was unfortunate because of the subject matter. See if you recognize what I mean in this example, which I have made up:

There are many new faces to welcome:

  • Please welcome Mary Robertson to Minneapolis as regional sales manager.
  • Please welcome Fred Liszt to Washington, D.C., as brand manager.
  • Please welcome Delia West to Dallas as sales manager.
  • Please welcome Matt Spencer to Chicago as sales representative.
  • And welcome Ilya Kovich to St. Louis as sales representative.

Did you fall asleep reading that list? The "Please welcomes" are almost hypnotic.

Anytime the beginnings of your bullet points repeat the same words, move those words to your introductory sentence, like this:

Please welcome these new faces:

  • Mary Robertson, promoted to regional sales manager in Minneapolis
  • Fred Liszt, our new brand manager in Washington, D.C.
  • Delia West, promoted to sales manager in Dallas
  • Matt Spencer, Chicago's newest sales representative
  • Ilya Kovich, our new sales assistant in St. Louis

Eliminate the repetition and you will bring energy and clarity to your content.

Do you have suggestions for better bullet points? Please share them.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

7 comments on “How to Wake Up Sleepy Bullet Points”

  • Hi Lynn,
    Thank you for your wonderful blog. It has been a constant source of inspiration to improve my writing.

    Great article as always.

  • The one I usually have to deal with is different verb tenses all through the bullets; e.g.,
    “Our priorities include the following:
    * To fulfill every order
    * Putting our customers first
    * Keep our IT systems up-to-date

    This example would be easy to fix, but real life is not always so simple!

  • Another one I see is similar to AC’s. It’s where the bullet does not make sense with the lead-in sentence. Here is an example.

    We provide consulting services on international benefits including:

    *Legal requirements by country
    *Conduct marketings
    *Assist with the implementation of new programs

    If you read the lead in sentence with each bullet, it should read like a full sentence.

    Example: We provide consulting services on international benefits including assistance with the implementation of new programs.

    Here is a suggestion for one of your blogs – the correct use of punctuation with bullets. I have seen arguments for semi-colons, periods, no punctuation, and everything in between.

    Thanks, Lynn. I enjoy reading your blog.

  • Hi, Cathy. Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to give an example.

    I touched briefly on punctuation with bullet points in my post “Best Practices for Bullet Points.” You are right: It would be a good idea to get into the subject more deeply.


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