Balancing Bullet Points and Walls of Text

Balancing Bullet Points and Walls of Text

In communication, there is a difference between sending a message and having that message received.

This is an obvious statement, but it's something that cannot be stated enough. When someone gives you feedback, do you ignore it and pretend it never existed? Do you get heated and argue against it? Do you accept it completely and shut down? Or do you analyze which points are valid and actually take action to improve those?

When you need someone to do a task for you, do you just tell them to do it, "because I said so?" Do you softly ask and frame it as less important than it actually is, because you're afraid of putting pressure on others? Or do you ask directly, provide a "why," and give a deadline it needs to be done by?

Whether you are the sender or the receiver, these are situations that exist in all instances of human communication, no matter the channel (in-person, email, text, chat, article, etc.), no matter the relationship or power dynamic (teacher-student, spouses, peers, boss-employee, content creator-consumer, writer-reader, etc.). The most famous book related to this is a well-known Dale Carnegie classic.

Writing

An interesting extension of this beyond direct communication between people is when it comes to writing. There are many books out there that can be summarized by simple phrases, like "work hard" or "no victim mindset" for example. There are countless unread blog posts out there with bullet point lists of these phrases. There are tomes of history and philosophy out there that no one but a few PhD students are reading.

The interesting question is, given that useful information exists out there to be consumed (message sent), what can be done to make it both more likely to be consumed, and truly embraced and applied (message received)?

If someone were to write a random article with thirty bullet points of life lessons, that'd be nice to skim through, but I'd wager no one will remember ANY of the bullets. None of the bullets will stand out or have any sense of priority in the list of thirty. And the reader doesn't spend enough time with the ideas to really understand why they're important. Even if all the life lessons in the entire world were truly compressed into that list of bullet points, it doesn't matter if the message is not received.

If someone were to write a massive memoir of their entire life and go into extreme detail on all their personal life lessons, congratulations to them, but again I'd wager that no one will read it. Something like that can't help anyone if no one reads it. In other words, the message is not received.

What is the ideal space between Bullet Points and Walls of Text?

Whether writing technical documentation, a book, or simply a text or email, it's important to think about how the information can best be formatted to make it a good read, instead of a forgotten one. It's not just a question of short and long. Two bullets explained can be more effective than twelve. A TikTok post could get more exposure than a book (though probably not last as long). In all forms of writing, it's important to think about whether or not your message will be received and how best to tune that to your favor.

 
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