Bullets: To Shoot or Not To Shoot?

Posted: June 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Grammar, Punctuation, and Usage | No Comments »

(This is an update of an earlier post.)

When to Use Bullets?

Bullets are a modern, clean writing tool. They encourage spare writing because they enable you to leave out transitional words. Bullets work well in letters and memos, but they may be too informal for documents filed in court. You should almost never bullet case law or your paper may end up looking like a simple transcription of your research notes, rather than a thoughtful analysis of the cases.

Bullets or Numbers?

Bullets suggest that there is no hierarchy to the list, so only use bullets if all items in a list are of equal importance. If some items in the list are more important than others, use numbers instead and put the important items first.

What Kinds of Items Go in Bullets?

Don’t mix different types of items in one list. For example, don’t bullet a list about:

  • Representation
  • Reliance
  • Intent
  • Harm
  • Giraffes.

Parallel Construction in Bullets?

Use parallel construction between bullets. If the first item is a word or fragment, later items must also be a word or fragment. If the first item is a full sentence or question, later items must also be sentences or questions. Here is an example of a list that has been corrected to use parallel construction:

The client asked us to consider several issues:

  • Choice of law
  • Personal jurisdiction
  • What is the standard of review? Standard of review.

Rewriting the third bullet so that it is also a phrase solves the problem. 

Grammar in Bullets?

This is where most bullet writers shoot themselves in the foot. The front end of the sentence (the part before the colon) and the back end (the part after the bullet) must fit together. Mentally glue these two halves of the sentence together and read the glued version aloud to be sure it is grammatically correct. Here is an example of a list that has been corrected so that it has grammatical continuity:

The court will review:

  • Choice-of-law issues
  • Personal jurisdiction
  • Did the trial court abuse its discretion? Abuse of Discretion.

(Putting each bullet in parallel construction will usually solve the problem.)

How to Punctuate and Style Bullets?

Bullets are a new style, so not everyone agrees on how to style them. Here is what I recommend:

  • Put a colon at the end of the phrase of sentence that introduces the bullet.
  • Capitalize the first word in the bullet.
  • If the bullet is a word or a phrase, don’t put any punctuation at the end (except the last bullet will take a period).
  • If the bullet is a sentence, put a period at the end.
  • Do not put “and” at the end of the penultimate bullet.
  • Always put a period at the end of the last bullet.

In other words, your bullets should look like my bullets in this post.


Keep bullets simple and clean. Bullets become visually complicated if they are spread over more than two facing pages.  Similarly, avoid bullets within bullets. The absence of any hierarchy will make the bullet points  hopelessly confusing.


So–ready, shoot, aim!


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