Business English Quick Tips: bullet points and lists

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

When you have a number of points or topics to set out – whether it’s as online text on your website, on slides like those wonderful PowerPoint jobs, or even (dare I say it) on old-fashioned paper … choosing the wrong way to do it can make your readers lose the plot in a most inconvenient way.

Most of the Business Schools, in their business writing modules, say that if you need to list more than three main points in a sentence you should resort to bullet points, but up to three work OK in a simple sentence. That makes sense. For instance…

We need to consider these key issues when allocating contracts to suppliers: financial viability, expertise/experience and ability to deliver on time.

Fair enough – that’s easy to understand. But what if that sentence were to read…

We need to consider these key issues when allocating contracts to suppliers: financial viability, solid backing from shareholders, appropriate geographical spread, suitable network of depots, good track record, expertise/experience, sufficient staffing to provide 24/7 service, hands-on management, highly skilled workforce, and ability to deliver on time.

Phew. Not something you’d want to read online whether in an email, on a blog, on a website or even on a comment. So – bullet points are called for. Why? To make the text easier to understand. Let’s try this:

We need to consider these key issues when allocating contracts to suppliers:

  • Financial viability
  • Solid backing from shareholders (stockholders)
  • Appropriate geographical spread
  • Suitable network of depots
  • Good track record
  • Expertise/experience
  • Sufficient staffing to provide 24/7 service
  • Hands-on management
  • Highly skilled workforce
  • Ability to deliver on time

Sometimes there can be so many bullet points that they in themselves become confusing. Let’s think about this…

We need to consider these key issues when allocating contracts to suppliers:

  • Financial viability
  • Well-checked viability via the usual company information resources
  • Solid backing from shareholders (stockholders)
  • Up to date information on position as quoted
  • Records going back at least 20 years showing a solid, trustworthy basis
  • Appropriate geographical spread
  • Suitable network of depots
  • Adequate ownership of transport vehicles to accommodate demand
  • Adequate number of leased vehicles to supplement demand
  • Instant and efficient contact between depots and Head Office
  • Good record of industrial relations with drivers’ Unions
  • Good track record of timely delivery
  • Expertise/experience
  • Highly skilled workforce
  • Encouraging testimonials from existing customers
  • Enthusiastic responses from managerial staff when questioned
  • Sufficient staffing to provide 24/7 service
  • Hands-on management
  • Ability to deliver on time

Ahem … I was about to fall asleep about half-way through that. So what’s the answer? Divide your bullet points into sub-headed sections:

We need to consider these key issues when allocating contracts to suppliers:

Capabilities overview:

  • Financial viability
  • Well-checked viability via the usual company information resources
  • Solid backing from shareholders (stockholders)
  • Up to date information on position as quoted
  • Records going back at least 20 years showing a solid, trustworthy basis
  • Appropriate geographical spread
  • Suitable network of depots
  • Adequate ownership of transport vehicles to accommodate demand
  • Adequate number of leased vehicles to supplement demand
  • Instant and efficient contact between depots and Head Office

Operational strengths:

  • Good record of industrial relations with drivers’ Unions
  • Good track record of timely delivery
  • Expertise/experience
  • Highly skilled workforce
  • Encouraging testimonials from existing customers
  • Enthusiastic responses from managerial staff when questioned
  • Sufficient staffing to provide 24/7 service
  • Hands-on management
  • Ability to deliver on time

Makes it a bit clearer, doesn’t it?

Bullets or numbers?

Some would say that bullet points and numbering are interchangeable, but my own feeling is that if you number your points, some of your readers will assume that they are in order of importance. Plain bullets do not give that impression.

For a really useful 200-page guide to business writing in English, check out “Business Writing Made Easy” – you’ll find it very, very helpful! Click here

And for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section, and I will try to answer them as well as I can.

Suze

 

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  1. […] Just bear in mind that your bullets need not be long, and they are never as long as a paragraph.When you are writing sales copy, there are quite a few important items you have to keep in mind. You…all of which helps you make your copy readable. One copy device that serves to keep people moving […]

  2. Gidget says:

    Gidget…

    Business English Quick Tips: bullet points and lists | How To Write Better…

  3. […] can guess what your challenge is going to be, can’t you?) And don’t forget what I wrote about bullets and lists earlier in this […]

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