When dealing with complex or dense information, breaking down text into bulleted or numbered lists eases reading and helps readers better scan and comprehend information, which leads better retention.
Let’s look at an example. Here is a typical style of paragraph found in corporate writings:
To be a productive employee, you must keep your workstation clean and organized, not spend excessive time watching cat videos on YouTube, keep chatting with coworkers to a minimum, and arrive promptly to all meetings. There will be consequences if your boss finds you to not be productive. First, you will receive a written warning. If unproductive behavior continues, your boss will have an official review of your work activities. The next step is a three-week unpaid leave of absence. The final step is feeding you to the alligators.
Here is how this information would look when broken down into a bulleted and numbered list. Note the headers in bold to draw attention to the information listed below.
To be a productive employee, you must:
• keep your workstation clean and organized
• not spend excessive time watching cat videos on YouTube
• keep chatting with coworkers to a minimum
• arrive promptly to all meetings
There will be consequences if your boss finds you to not be productive. Beginning with the first consequence, they are:
1. written warning
2. official review of your work activities
3. three-week unpaid leave of absence
4. feeding you to the alligators
In the second example, the reader can more directly access the important information because it is not in a cluttered, tightly packed paragraph.
More white space
Another positive aspect of using bulleted and numbered lists is the increased amount of white space this creates on the page. If you are reading a full page or more that is loaded with important information you need to know, looking at a page that appears uncluttered, due to the lists, makes the thought of getting through the material feel less daunting. If you are the one writing the material, the added white space results in more people actually reading your writing (because they feel it will take less time and the page looks less intimidating) and thus increased comprehension and retention of the information.
Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of book editing, author coaching, and social media packages.
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