Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for your questions and comments. Today, I’d like to share two of these emails with you.
From Doha, Qatar comes a great observation from our friend the college professor: “…loved your reference to the dictionary being a fun read…” (Thanks so much, professor!) And then he goes on,
“I speak of connotation as the flavor of the word….”
What a great way to look at it! What are the basic historic four flavors – salt, sour, sweet, and bitter? Think of all the connotative words (words that “carry baggage,” making their meaning sometimes go beyond the dictionary definition), and how could you then define the connotative meaning better than by identifying the connotative meaning of that word as being, “salt(y), sour, sweet, (or) bitter”? Good way to think about those words!
From Portland, Oregon:
“We use a lot of bullet points in our reports. Some of the points in a given list may be complete sentences, and some are not. When that is the case, should periods be used at the end of each bullet point?…What do you do if there is more than one sentence in a point?”
This is a great question, and one frequently asked in class. Your organization may have its own style and preferences, and if so, you’ll want to use them. (An organizational Style Guide is a great idea.)
On to the answer:
To begin with, use parallel construction; that is,
- When one bullet point is in sentence form, all bullet points should be in sentence form.
- Similarly, if your bullet points are not sentences, but a few words on each line to form the list, there should be no sentences – all should be “list” items. The first word, along with any proper nouns, should be capitalized. There should be no punctuation following each list item.
- This three-point explanation is an example of the sentence form bullet point list.
You can use parallel construction to strengthen the case you are building with your bullet points. When your list is in either sentence, or list form, the first word should be the same part of speech – usually an action word (a verb), in business writing. For example:
In addition to my work responsibilities, I have participated in a variety of community and volunteer activities. I have:
- Increased member pledge amounts to my church by 37% in a one-year period.
- Developed a training program for new youth umpires for our neighborhood Little League program.
- Raised funds, recruited sponsors, and organized an adult volunteer program to support our elementary school’s Youth Garden project.
And you could continue, using strong action words to introduce each bullet point. Do you see how this practice positions the writer? He or she increased, developed, and raised… An active, results-oriented go-getter, indeed, especially when coupled with a similarly-formatted list of on-the-job achievements. Further, did you notice how the actual number (37%) “proved” the accomplishment, making it more concrete and believable?
So how was this second bullet point list punctuated? Because each “action item” completes the “I have” introductory stem to form a complete sentence, each ends with a period. If there were two sentences to a particular point, each sentence would have the appropriate ending punctuation (period, exclamation point, or question mark).
You could also have a single sentence in list form. If you have one sentence, with its various points in a list, it could look like this:
This job requires the employee to:
- be at work promptly,
- function independently,
- respect co-workers, and
- provide back up as requested by the motor pool.
In essence, this format splits a sentence into bite-size pieces, which makes it easier for your reader to “get it,” and remember it.
Three ways to format your bullet list:
- Each point is a complete sentence, punctuated and capitalized as a complete sentence.
1a. With an introductory stem, each bullet point completes the sentence thus formed. The part of this sentence actually in the list is capitalized, and has ending punctuation – usually a period in the business situation.
- If your bullet points are not sentences, but a few words on each line to form the list, the first word, along with any proper nouns, should be capitalized. There should be no punctuation following each list item.
- You could have a single sentence in list form.
Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
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