In Typography, What Is a Bullet?

Angela Farrer

A bullet is a typographical symbol used to denote an unordered list of items. It is also sometimes called a glyph, which in typography is a term for a graphical element with a definite purpose of adding structure to text. Bulleted lists are frequently included in documents such as technical manuals, outlined notes, and various types of presentations. Breaking up a section of text into a series of bullet points can often make detailed and technical information easier for readers to understand and retain. Depending on the subject and its complexity, each bullet can be followed by a single word, a word paired with its definition, or a relevant short phrase.

Word processing software often allows a user some creativity when it comes to bullet point styles.
Word processing software often allows a user some creativity when it comes to bullet point styles.

Unlike the numbers in an ordered list, the dots in a bulleted list indicate that the order of the items can be rearranged without changing the meaning of the information. Modern word processing software allows for a good deal of user creativity when it comes to bullet point styles. Bullets often have a round black dot as their default symbol, but a user can easily change this setting and make bullet points of various shapes and colors if he or she prefers. Check marks, squares, triangles, and diamond shapes are usually standard choices for bullets in most word processing programs. Clip art icons and even small pictures can also be selected as these types of list symbols.

The information in a bulleted list is sometimes used a part of a summary, and the associated grammar rules for these lists can be somewhat different. Since many bulleted lists do not contain complete sentences, some users may initially be uncertain whether a period or full stop should be used after the final word in each item. Generally accepted grammar rules for these lists dictate that every item except the last one should end with a semicolon. Generally, the last word of a bulleted list should be followed by a period, although in many cases, these lists are still considered acceptable with no period at the end.

Standard graphic design conventions for bullet points require specific spacing between lines. A common mistake some document designers make is to indent the text of each bulleted item so that it does not line up correctly with the text immediately before and after the list. The result can appear more visually cluttered and give an otherwise neat page or presentation a subtly unprofessional appearance.

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