How to Use Bullet Points

A bullet point is not always treated the same as a sentence, and so the rules for using punctuation can vary. In Business and Academic English, there are different manuals and guidelines of style that give us conflicting rules, and there are also differences depending on whether you're using American, British, or Australian English. Whichever you choose (and your choice should depend on your target reader), be consistent! If your bullet points are a selection of options for completing a sentence you opened with, you should finish them with a full stop.

Here are some examples to clarify:

Example 1

I like learning English online because:

  • it's fun.
  • it's convenient.
  • it's user-friendly.

All of the bullet points above could complete the sentence we started with, and so they are treated as part of that sentence. The colon at the end of the opening sentence is optional, and rules vary in this regard.

Example 2

I like learning English online because:

  • it's fun;
  • it's convenient; and
  • it's user-friendly.

Here, we see that the bullet points are treated like a list in a single sentence. They are separated by a semicolon to indicate long, connecting pauses between a selection of optional sentence endings (see semicolon for more). This style is more suited to formal writing, like legal or academic, for example.

However, some bullet point lists will feature more than one sentence - for example, if you are asking a question and providing a selection of optional answers:

Example 3

Why do you like learning English online?

  • I like it because it's fun.
  • I like it because it's convenient.
  • I like it because it's user-friendly.

Here, the reader is provided with full, ready-made answers to the question. Each answer is treated as a complete sentence, so it takes a full stop.

Example 4

Why do you like learning English online?

  • It's fun.
  • It's convenient.
  • It's user-friendly.

In this example, the answers are more concise. They are still complete sentences, though, and so - like in Example 3 - they take full stops. This is not completely necessary, however, and some writers will choose the following style:

Example 5

Why do you like learning English online?

  • I like it because it's fun
  • I like it because it's convenient
  • I like it because it's user-friendly

This is a more informal way of writing, but it is not incorrect. Overall, we recommend that you check style guides and the requirements of people (editors, examiners, etc.) to whom you are sending or submitting your writing.

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