Dreaded Bullet Points

seanglenn's picture

I'm struggling with the amount of bullet points that are constantly in the texts I work with regularly. I personally despise bullet points, but I don't get to edit these texts. Any suggestions for formatting them to look their best? Currently, I have the bullet at the left margin edge, then a tab, with the rest of the text lining up to that tab (most of the bulleted text I work with is multiple lines). There are no paragraph spaces between items, or between the list and the text. I haven't found any examples of bulleted text that I like, so I'm not sure what else to try.

gulliver's picture

I also agree with Joe that bullets should be used juduciously and sparingly, if at all.

jfp's picture

As Joe say, generally nothing is the best, just a list is better and more clean. It align with the rest of the text and create a better page layout (at graphic design level).

If necessary, you have also the middle point too.

Each presentation, Adobe Type guys do, during ATypI, use a template or so for it and ALL their sentences star with this annoying bullet!

I really don't understand the function of this buuulllllet when you got them everwhere?

--I have a question concerning the design of bullet: do you prefer a bullet who change when the weight of the typeface change or stay identical for all the family?

nike's picture

Guillemet looks also very nice

eomine's picture

>IMO, bullets are usually about 30% too large in most typefaces.

I think that's because the bullets are usually dimensioned proportionally to the typeface em-square (iirc, most typefaces have a bullet which diameter=1/2em), and not to the typeface weight.


>I have a question concerning the design of bullet: do you prefer a bullet who change when the weight of the typeface change or stay identical for all the family?

This is a nice question. Most typefaces around have the same bullet for all weights. It seems a good solution, considering its conventional usage (as marks for listed items). But I'd like to listen to more experienced designers here too.

pstanley's picture

I really hate bullets and all they stand for: the inability to write coherent text, to express connection, or to organise a list into any order. I have a queasy suspicion that the very word "bullet" has coincidentally contributed to their grotesque popularity, with its connotations of deadly speed. A bullet point is not just a point: it is a killer, swift and sure and aimed at its target.

I agree with those who suggest using either a midpoint or a reduced size of bullet. I would not succumb to the temptation to use some other symbol (asterisks, or hyphens, or guillemets, or plus signs or whatever ...) because each has its proper function, and appropriating symbols with common uses to do service in some other task causes momentary confusion. (I suppose a pure ornament would not suffer from this, but it hardly solves the problem. Anyway, what has an ivy leaf got to do with anything: decorated bullets are worse.)

And I wouldn't dispense with the bullet altogether because I think the decision to use a bullet carries semantic weight for the writer: the writer wanted a "set of bullet points" (that's how these people think) not just a list, and if you give her/him a list you are in some sense altering the meaning of the text, subtly but perceptibly, in a way I think one normally shouldn't. At least, if you are going to do that you should go back to the writer and say "These bullet points look bad, could we do ..."

hrant's picture

> A bullet point is not just a point: it is a killer, swift and sure and aimed at its target.

You're right - a dagger is much more chivalrous. ;-)

hhp

plainclothes's picture

I am working on a long text right now (that I should
have completed weeks ago!) that has a number of very
necessary [originally bulleted] lists. I found that
aligning to the initial indent of the text provided
adequate emphasis without introducing an added
element.

sometimes I find the need to use a white line between
list items, other times it's superfluous. but there are
occasions when a bullet helps to clarify. as others
mentioned, you simply have to make sure it's not too
heavy. some fonts work best using the midpoint, others
(eg Myriad) have well-proportioned bullets that need
little to no adjustment.

plainclothes's picture

Joseph Pemberton said... Or, if you're forced into bullets, why not hang them?

I believe there's a nicely set example of this in Bringhurst's book.

seanglenn's picture

I'll have to check Bringhurst's book again, for some reason I don't have it with me at work. Very poor form indeed.

I think I'm going to talk with my editor and see if we can just remove them entirely. I'd much rather see a line space before and after a list to set it off from the text. Bullets are such a poor and ugly way to set off text.

Joe Pemberton's picture

IMO, bullets are usually about 30% too large in most
typefaces. If you're using Quark or InDesign you can set
up a character style sheet to make them a smaller point
size. Just adjust the baseline to compensate.

For alternate bullets try an underscore or a hyphen. They're
more understated.

Or question bullets entirely. People don't always need to
see a bullet to know they're reading a list. Achieve the same
thing with line spacing.

anonymous's picture

I get alot of text with bullets at work as well, and I've become convinced that copywriter's facination with bullet points can be blamed entirely on PowerPoint.
Generally, I find that removing bullets altogether is the best way to handle lists. They can be unsightly and clutter the text. Set a list the same way you'd set the body, and add a little leading between points (if the body is 10/12, then between points in the list, put a hard break of 14 or 16). It's not great typography, but it's not great copy either.

Joe Pemberton's picture

Or, if you're forced into bullets, why not hang them? Do you
need to indent and have bullets to get the point across?

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