We use lists to put a lot of information in small space, but the density makes the paragraphs hard to read, as in this example:
Understanding nutrition is very important. But why does it have to be so complicated?
High carb, low, carb, no carb. Good carbs, bad carbs,. Simple carbs, complex carbs. High fat, low fat; saturated fat, trans fat; polys and monos. Antioxidants, vitamins, minerals. Soluble fiber, insoluble fiber. Serum cholesterol, dietary cholesterol.
Who can keep all that stuff straight?
Of course, that second paragraph is about confusion, which it illustrates.
We use bullets to open lists up. Short bulleted lists work best. Long lists work better with numbered items, although numbers imply hierarchy..
Roy Clark, in his forthcoming book, The Glamour of Grammar, lists the benefits of bullets:
· The ability to check information at a glance.
· Relief to the eye in the form of white space.
· Information conveyed in tight spaces.
· Order, or at least the appearance of order.
Much easier to read than this paragraph version:
Roy Clark, in his forthcoming book, The Glamour of Grammar, lists the benefits of bullets: the ability to check information at a glance, relief to the eye in the form of white space, information conveyed in tight spaces, and order, or at least the appearance of order.
Here’s another example:
While he is not raising money for libraries, Mr. Bradbury still writes for a few hours every morning (‘I can’t tell you’ is the answer to any questions on his latest book); reads George Bernard Shaw; receives visitors including reporters, filmmakers, friends and children of friends; and watches movies on his giant flat-screen television.
The writer, Jennifer Steinhauer, uses semicolons rather than commas to divide the items in series because some of the items have internal punctuation. We could open that list to make it easier to read by using bullets. But bullets are formal and carry connotations of technical material, unsuitable here for the informality of Bradbury’s activities.
Every mark has meaning for readers, even the shape of the bullet. This list approves of some items over others: