By Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
When it comes to communication and information, especially when you are communicating in writing, more is not always better. In business, one of the most effective ways to communicate in writing is using “bullet points.” However, many people use bullet points incorrectly or work against their goal of concisely sending a clear message or call to action by making many common sense mistakes.
Consider the following tips:
--No bullet point should be more than one or two lines in length. For example, our communication and leadership firm put together a list of “12 Keys to Making the Connection” when communicating. The first bullet is “ATTITUDE is everything!” Clearly there is more to say about attitude, but when it comes to bullet points, you can’t try to give all the information about a particular item to your audience. That’s why the shorter “ATTITUDE is everything” will most likely be remembered by the recipient, because the more information in a particular bullet point, the more likely the audience is to forget your initial point.
--Highlight, italicize or put in bold certain words. If you notice, “ATTITUDE” is highlighted because that is the most significant word in the bullet point. Further, whatever tool you use to highlight a particular word, be consistent with that approach throughout the list of bullets.
--The same thing is true in my ninth key to making the connection. “CONFRONT…But Don’t Be Nasty or Negative.” The goal is to have people remember that while their ATTITUDE is key, CONFRONTING issues and/or people is critical to effectively communicating both at work and at home.
--Create “white space” in between each bulleted item, as opposed to cramming everything together. Effective communication must be appealing to the eye. That is the beauty of having a one line bullet. It allows for more white space, which gives the recipient the chance to let the particular bullet point sink in or to write their own notes in between the bullets.
--How many bullets are too many? Frankly, after further consideration, “12 keys” in my making the connection list was too many. I should have gone with seven or maximum eight. Remember, Stephen Covey’s bestselling book is called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It is not called the 12 or 14 habits. Most people can only remember so many bulleted points, therefore, no matter how many points you think you want to make, really effective communicators edit their bullets down to a maximum of seven or eight. For certain business communication, that number should be three or four. It isn’t a question of how much information you have, but rather what are the MOST significant points for your audience.