Parallel Construction—The Secret to Beautiful Bullet Points

Bullet points can be beautiful? Well, maybe that is a stretch, but some are definitely better looking than others! Now, I’m not talking about the actual bullet symbol—that is a topic for another blog post (but here is a quick hint: smiley face bullets should generally be avoided). I am referring to the text itself.

When crafting bullets, remember their purpose: organizing related information for clarity and conciseness. Simply put, bullets should make content easier to read. One tried and true technique to achieve this goal is parallel construction.

But, before we move on to the definition of parallel construction, here is a brief example of what it is not:

A Chicago technical writer should be proficient in the following areas:

  • A writer should know where to find great pizza
  • Ride the L
  • Standing on the Skydeck
  • Run under the Bean (a.k.a Cloud Gate)

Now, these bullets sound really awkward because they don’t “match.” The first one is a complete sentence, while the final three are phrases. In addition, they use different verb tenses.

We can eliminate this awkwardness by ensuring that all of the bullets are either a sentence or a phrase (generally preferred), and that each follows the same format:

A Chicago technical writer should be proficient in the following areas:

  • Finding great pizza
  • Riding the L
  • Standing on the Skydeck
  • Running under the Bean (a.k.a Cloud Gate)

All of the bullet points are now phrases beginning with –ing  (present participle) action verbs–awkwardness gone!

 

Erin Wright is a freelance technical writer and editor located in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in general business content, including marketing and instructional material for print and the web.