Improve your Messages with Email Bullet Points

 
Email Bullet Points

A great way to improve your ability to both read and compose Email messages is with Email Bullet Points. They are a handy feature that should be part of most business Email communications.

In past posts, we have discussed the 6 key components to structure a good Email communication.

Often, the largest element of the message is the detail or body of the Email message.  This is where you convey key information to the reader as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Emails should be no more than one screen of data if at all possible.

With tablet devices and smartphones as "devices of choice" for many, it is now more important than ever to keep your Email's brief, compact, and concise.

One way to do this is by using compact paragraphs with short, easy-to-ready sentences.

Another way is to use Email Bullet Points to list key information.

We all know what a bullet point is…

It is a short, targeted piece of information preceded either by a dot (the “bullet”), or some other type of icon. 

  • just like this

You use bullet points to create lists of items, steps, or make key points.

Here are a few examples of different types of bullet points:

  • typical filled circle bullet item
  • square bullet item
  • empty circle bullet item

But did you know there are “best practices” for Email Bullet Points?

Here are tips for creating crisp, clear Email Bullet Points:

Use bold, italics, or underlines for the first word or two of a bulleted list as a way to emphasize a key term or point.

Here are a few examples:

  • Verify the account code of every new transaction.
  • Collect the zip code of the shipping address.
  • Ensure you co-sign all inventory receipts.

Make your bullet points consistent in structure and style:

You can structure your bullets as a list of items, lists of questions, sentence fragments, or even complete sentences.  But don’t mix and match these different types within one set of a bulleted list.

Here is a list combining too many different styles:

  • Check-in ⇐ A list item
  • Is the departure time in 5 minutes? ⇐ A question
  • Ensure you always cross-check the logged passenger list with the original passenger manifest. ⇐ A full sentence
  • Depress manual brake ⇐ Sentence fragment

See how the above mixes different types of bullets.. not easy to read or understand.

Here is a consistently structured list (all sentence fragments):

  • Depress manual brake
  • Release emergency brake
  • Increase power on throttle to 10%
  • Release manual brake
  • Sound departure alarm

In the above, everything is using "sentence fragments" without any ending punctuation.  Must easier to read and understand!

Use consistent punctuation in your bullet points:

If possible, try to use either all all partial sentences or all full sentences. And use consistent punctuation at the end of your bulleted items.

Follow these rules for the use of punctuation in bulleted items:

  • If the bullets are full sentence, then end each one with a period.
  • If the bullets are questions, then end each one with a question mark.
  • If the bullets are phrases or sentence fragments, then do not end with any punctuation.

Avoid ending bullet points with semicolons (";").  This was once a common practice, but is no longer used much these days.

Avoid very long, or multiple-sentence bullet points:

Bullet points should be a few lines at most. You don’t want them to take up the space of an entire paragraph, or they lose their benefit.

If you have something that spans multiple lines, consider if you can either break it into multiple bullet points, or perhaps it shouldn't be a bullet point at all and instead a separate, short paragraph.

Avoid nested or multi-level bullet points:

Although nested bullet points can be helpful for communicating complex ideas, they don't display well in Emails.

A multi-level, or nested, bulleted list looks like this:

  • Level 1
    • Level 2
    • Level 2
    • Level 2
      • Level 3
  • Level 1

lthough they can work well in a Word document or PowerPoint presentation, they don't always display nicely in an Email message.

There is just not enough ‘screen space’ in an Email to make them useful. Some Email clients may also not correctly display nested bullet points, making them difficult to read.

For listing steps, use numbered lists instead of bullets:

If you are listing specific steps, or want to specify something in a certain order, then consider using a numbered list instead of bullet points.

Here is a simple numbered list that shows steps:

  1. Roll the dice
  2. Move your player piece the number of spaces shown
  3. Choose a player card from the deck

Numbered lists make it easy to refer to a specific step in the list.

Avoid starting bullet points with redundant phrases:

It's a bullet list, so no need to start each one with words such as;

  • Additionally...
  • In addition...
  • Furthermore...
  • And another item is...

Just start the list with your action word or key point.  And don't forget to use a numbered list if you want to list sequenced steps.

Keep the items in your bulleted list related by topic.

Your list should be related to a consistent idea or topic.

If you have a long list that spans several different topics, consider breaking them up with a different header or sub-header topics.

For example, break into sub-lists of “Advantages” and “Disadvantages”:

  • advantage number 1
  • advantage number 1
  • advantage number 1

Disadvantages:

  • disadvantage number 1
  • disadvantage number 1
  • disadvantage number 1

Keep your bullet points the same size, font, and spacing:

Lay out bullet points cleanly, and avoid a variety of fonts or a mix of margins. This keeps them neat, orderly, and professional looking.

  • You don’t want bullet points

  • That look something
  •          like this!

Bullet Points also help the person composing the Email:

Bullet points make it easier to structure and organize your message, and allow you to write your message more quickly.  It is faster to write bulletted items than entire sentences and paragraphs.

It also makes it easier for someone to reply to the bulleted items.  They can just insert their responses under the bulleted items, utilizing a different font and color.

Look at this set of bullet points and the responses in blue italics:

  • Increase bid price by 20%
How about we do 10% instead for the first round?
  • Improve final output by 100 units
Agree!  We can do that!
  • Reduce time to market by 3 months
Too tight - but think we can reduce to 2 months if supplier approves.  Can you verify?

By listing items in bullet points above, it is easy for someone to respond to your Email message with their comments on your items.  Just encourage them to respond with an alternate font style, color or even highlight their responses.

Don't use bullet points for personal messages:

Avoid using bullet points when you want to express warmth or if you are sending a personal or sensitive message. Bullet points are great for routine or business communications, but are not ideal for personal or sensitive messages.

So, there you go.  Everything you ever wanted to know about how to use Email Bullet Points in your Email message to improve structure and clarity.

Although you cannot use bulleted lists with every Email message, then can be very helpful.  Try to remember to use them where they will be helpful, improve readability, and reduce the amount of text you would need to type.

Do you use bullet points in your Email messages?

Do you have any other tips on how to best use bullet points in your Email messages?


Here are books to help you learn to communicate effectively: