12 May 2022

Other easy reads don’t use bullet points. Maybe your poster shouldn’t, either.

Bullet points are overused on conference posters. But many people recommend them, often claiming that bulleted lists are “easier to read.”

If bullet points were truly easier to read, you should see them in publications aimed at wide readership.

People magazine logo
Like People magazine.

Here’s the first few paragraphs of an article on the People website about Selena Gomez.

"n April 26, 2022 02:00 PM Advertisement FB Tweet LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 09: EP/Actor Selena Gomez from Hulu’s ‘Only Murders in the Building’ attends Deadline Contenders Television at Paramount Studios on April 09, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Deadline Hollywood ) Selena Gomez | Credit: Amy Sussman/Getty for Deadline Hollywood  Selena Gomez is teaming up with the White House to end the stigma around mental health.  On Tuesday, MTV Entertainment announced it'll be partnering with the 29-year-old Revelación singer and her makeup brand Rare Beauty's Rare Impact Fund to host the first-ever Mental Health Youth Action Forum in coordination with the Biden-Harris Administration on Wednesday, May 18 in Washington, D.C.  Presented as part of MTVE's Mental Health is Health Initiative, Gomez and her organization will join 30 previously-announced mental health youth activists at the Forum, geared toward empowering young people to embrace conversations about mental health. The event takes place the day before Mental Health Action Day, which will see organizations, brands, government agencies, and cultural leaders come together and encourage people in need to seek mental health support."

Here’s the start of an article quoting Laila Ali.

"  Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano will make history on April 30 when they become the first female boxers to fight in a main event at Madison Square Garden.  "They're having an opportunity to fight as the main event at Madison Square Garden for the first time in the history of boxing," former superstar boxing champion Laila Ali tells PEOPLE about what the event means for women's sports. "That's what we've always wanted. I've been saying that from the time I was boxing, that we want to continue to help women's boxing grow."  The former boxer — whose record is undefeated — began her professional career in 1999 and competed until 2007. Throughout her own career and still, Ali has been passionate about female boxers receiving their due praise, from higher compensation to endorsement deals."

Weekly World News logo
But maybe you think People is still too high brow? How about the infamously goofy tabloid, The Weekly World News?  

Here’s a recent article about bird attacks:

BLACKBIRDS ATTACK KENTUCKY! April 5, 2022 by Tap Vann  Millions of birds are attacking a small Kentucky city –  destroying buildings, parks and injuring thousands of citizens.  The blackbirds and European starlings blacken the sky of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, before roosting at dusk, turn the landscape white with bird poop, and the disease they carry can kill a dog and sicken humans, causing a number to die a slow and painful death.  They are swooping down and attacking humans – focusing on eyeballs and ears.  “These damn blackbirds practically ripped off my ears,” said Jud Buckman of Hopkinsville.  “My eldest son lost his left eyeball.  I’m gonna get out my shotgun and start shooting!”  “I have seen them come in, and there are enough that if the sun is just right, they’ll cloud your vision of the sun,” said Hopkinsville-Christian County historian  Jefferson Turnabot. “I estimate there are 30 million of them.”

Huh. No bullet points there, either.

Sport Illustrated Kids logo
How about a magazine specifically aimed at novice readers? You know, for kids? Like Sports Illustrated Kids? If bullet points are easier, surely they would want to make their magazine accessible to kids?

From an article about their “Sportskid” of the year:

"When his daughter Zaila was around 3 years old, Jawara Spacetime changed her last name to Avant-garde. The term is used to describe art that is innovative or cutting edge. Jawara chose it to honor the late saxophonist John Coltrane, a popular musician in the 1950s and ’60s who embraced avant-garde jazz—much to the dismay of many of his fans and critics.  “There was some pretty big backlash to what he was doing,” Jawara says. “Critics said, ‘It’s just noise.’ But he loved that music. For my kids, I wanted them to be able to persevere and do what they love. Live your life to the fullest—and be passionate about whatever you’re doing.”  Now 14, Zaila has certainly embraced a wide range of passions. Such as spelling (she won the Scripps National Spelling Bee this summer). And basketball (she has set multiple world records for dribbling and is an elite-level player). And reading (she’s devoured more than 1,000 books)."

Again, you don’t really see bullet points. 

Kids magazines are kind of holdouts in mainly being in print and not online, I can’t find a current issue of Ranger Rick online, but here’s a sample of a 2016 article (the magazine’s fiftieth anniversary).

Ranger RIck magazine article about chameleons.

You should be expecting it by now. No bullet points to be seen.

So professionals who are genuinely trying to make things easy to read because that is their specific target audience do not use bullet points. I think we are reaching the point where we can say that “bullet points are easy to read” is a myth. Or if not a myth, not standard practice. It seems to be academics in particular who have a bullet list fixation.

I think the only reason this advice comes up so often for posters is because PowerPoint is so often used to make posters.

Related posts

Bullets versus sentences

Link roundup for February 2022 

1 comment:

Mike Taylor said...

Bullet lists are really useful in one specific situation: where you want to provide an unordered list of things, and the things are too long individually to just put them in a sentence, as in "Italian food uses elements such as bread, tomatoes and olive oil". For example, I might write:

Complete and nearly complete sauropod specimens include:
* CM 84, the holotype of Dipldoocus carnegii, the mounted skeleton of which exists in casts around the world
* CM 3018, the holotype of Apatosaurus louisae
* MB.R.2181 (formerly known as HMN SII), the paralectotype of Giraffatitan (formerly "Brachiosaurus" brancai)

I like the the HTML tag for a bullet list is not BL (for bullet list) but UL (for unordered list).