How to Create and Punctuate Bullet Points

bullet_pointsBullet points help readers scan what you’ve written, quickly drawing attention to key issues and facts. They can tell readers what needs to be done, provide step-by-step instructions, highlight important elements, or list features.

Bullets can be round, square, triangular, diamond, or even customized or whimsical graphics. When listing steps to take, numbers can serve as bullet points to emphasize the correct sequence.

There are no fixed rules of grammar about how to use bullet points, but here are some guidelines.

Bullets with an inconsistent format

To correctly address a letter to send via the United States Postal Service:

  • Put the name and full address in capital letters.
  • If there is a company, it should be under the individual’s name.
  • State abbreviations should consist of two capital letters.
  • Be sure to include the last 4 digits when you add the 5-digit ZIP code.
  • Don’t put the ZIP code on a separate line by itself; it goes with the city and state.
  • No commas or periods anywhere in the address.

What’s wrong with this list?

It is wordy, it lacks parallel construction, and the last point — unlike the others — is not a complete sentence.

Bullets with a consistent format

To correctly address a letter to send via the United States Postal Service:

  1. Use all capital letters.
  2. Place the company name under the individual’s name.
  3. Use standard two-letter state abbreviations.
  4. Use the full ZIP code+4.
  5. Keep the ZIP code on the same line as the city and state.
  6. Avoid commas and periods anywhere in the address.

What’s right with this list?

It is concise, it has parallel construction (each sentence begins with a verb), and each bullet is a full sentence written as an imperative — one that makes a request or gives you a directive. (The subject you is implied.)

Bullets as phrases with an introductory statement 

To correctly address a letter to send via the United States Postal Service, use all capital letters, avoid commas and periods, and include these elements in this order:

  • person’s name
  • company name
  • street address
  • city   2-letter state abbreviation   ZIP code+4 on same line

The numbered bullet points of the complete sentences in the previous example begin with a capital letter and end with a period.

This list of short phrases has neither capital letters nor periods.

You can create one set of bullet points in a document with phrases and another with full sentences, but avoid mixing phrases and complete sentences in the same set of bullets.

Bullet punctuation choices

1) Capitalize the first word and end with a period when the bullet point is a complete sentence.

Follow these USPS guidelines when you address your envelope:

  • Write the name and full address in capital letters.
  • Use the standard two-letter state abbreviation.
  • Keep the ZIP code on the same line as the city and state.

2) Lowercase the first word when the bullet point is not a complete sentence, and don’t add a period.

USPS address format guidelines:

  • all capital letters
  • two-letter state abbreviation
  • city, state, ZIP code+4 on same line

3) Avoid commas, semicolons and conjunctions. As the example shows, they add clutter and do nothing to promote understanding.

When addressing a letter for delivery by the Unites States Postal Service, follow these guidelines:

  • Use capital letters throughout;
  • Place the company name under the person’s name;
  • Use the 2-letter state abbreviation; and
  • Include the ZIP code+4 on same line as the city and state.

4) For short lists, the simplest way to arrange bullets is with no capital letters and no punctuation.

Getting a letter ready for USPS mail includes:

  • addressing the envelope
  • weighing the envelope and its contents
  • affixing the correct postage

Final tip

Preformatted bullets often leave too much of a gap between the bullet and the first letter of the point that follows. Adjust the space for a pleasing, easy-to-read list.

  • This is standard Microsoft Word bullet spacing.
  • This is customized Microsoft Word bullet spacing.

Whether you’re writing a report about a complex technical topic, noting features, emailing how-to instructions, blogging, or simply conveying information, your readers will thank you for breaking some of your content into bullet points.

If you need to follow a specific style guide with regard to capitalizing, for example, you might have fewer options than those covered in this post. But even reliable sources differ; you still might have choices about how you format your bullets.

Bonus tip:

For creative bullet-point ideas when you need something graphic for an eLearning course or a slide presentation, check out 6 Alternatives to Bullet Lists.

Questions? Comments? Pop me an email.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)