Lists - numbers or bullet points?

  • 12 October 2020

Writing tip: Use 1, 2, 3 for first, second, third

When writing a list, how do you decide whether to use dot points or numbers?

Use dots for equal lots. A short shopping list is the kind of list that is suitable for dots.

Dot points are perfect when:

  • items in the list are equally important, and
  • the sequence of items is irrelevant.

Use a numbered list (1, 2, 3…) only for items that you think of as first, second, third

The first item might be first in various senses, for example:

  • Importance (e.g. first in a competition), or
  • Sequence (e.g. the first step in a procedure), or
  • Time (e.g. the event that happened first).

Example of a numbered list: How to boil an egg.

  1. Place eggs in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cover them with cold water.
  2. Cover the eggs with at least an inch of water.
  3. Bring the water to a full boil and boil for 8 minutes.
  4. Remove the boiled eggs from the water and transfer them to a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes.
  5. Then either peel and serve the eggs, or refrigerate them.

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