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I read that bullet points have to be consistent when it comes to content and punctuation. For example, you can't mix full sentence bullet points with fragments. Is this true for hyphen points (if there is something called hyphen points)? I'm trying to write a list of shipping instructions for a friend's small online business and not sure if the below makes sense.

-Invoice must be included in the package.

-Ship via standard shipping.

(Or if I want write free shipping)

-Ship via free shipping.

Or

-Free shipping on orders over $25.

I'm not sure id I'm punctuating the sentences above correctly, because they seem unrelated to each other and I'm mixing a full sentence with fragments.

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1  
And if they are not consistent? What happens? Does someone come and shoot you? –  John Smithers Jul 9 '13 at 21:06
    
@JohnSmithers - No, but inconsistency is very unprofessional. And bulletproof vests aren't cheap. But I take your point. –  Neil Fein Jul 10 '13 at 4:01

2 Answers 2

When you have "bullet points," the character you use for the bullet is irrelevant. If you can't mix full sentences and fragments with bullets, you can't mix them with "hyphen points" either. So the same rules apply.

• Free shipping on orders over $25

is the same as

~ Free shipping on orders over $25

There's no difference in regards to punctuation or sentence structure. (to my amusement, SE keeps changing all my various characters to bullets...)

The only time the bullet character is relevant is if you have a stacked list and you want to match outline indentation levels (all the first level lines have a bullet, all the second level lines have an open circle, and so on).

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Can you advise how I should fix these instructions? I feel the need to mix full sentences with fragments, because I don't know how to turn things like "free shipping" into full sentences. –  jess Jul 9 '13 at 18:26
2  
In this context I'm entirely fine with mixing full sentences and fragments. The rule to which you're referring is probably for prose -- reports, news stories, white papers, that sort of thing. This is informational copy, which follows different rules. What you've written above is totally acceptable. It's clear and accurate. Don't worry about matching the sentence structure. –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 9 '13 at 19:34
    
The bullet character is relevant in the sense that it should be consistent! Don't use discs for the bullet character in your first list, hyphens in the second, and asterisks in the third, unless you have some reason to make them different. This will leap out at the reader. –  Jay Jul 10 '13 at 13:44
    
@Jay Not different bullets for different lists, true, but for different levels as you go deeper into the outline. (Imagine I., A., 1., a., and so on.) –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 10 '13 at 14:22
    
@LaurenIpsum Yes, I wasn't disagreeing with you. I was just saying that for different lists on the same level, you should be consistent (unless there is some good reason not to be). –  Jay Jul 11 '13 at 13:07

Yes, you should try to be consistent. It is very distracting if you have bullet points with wildly inconsistent text. This looks silly:

  • Include an invoice with the package.

  • Free shipping;

  • Have you checked that all items for this order are carefully packed?

  • Label,

Make them similar in length, punctuation, and tone. For example:

  • Invoice

  • Promotional flyers

  • Size 3 box

  • Free shipping

Keep punctuation consistent. You can end each bullet point with no punctuation, with a period, with a semi-colon, etc, but make them all the same. Don't end one with a period, two with semi-colons, and three with no punctuation.

If you find that some bullet points are not clear if you don't give a full sentence of explanation, then turn the rest into full sentences. You can often do this just by adding a word like "use" or "do" if there's no obvious more-specific word.

Avoid dramatically different lengths. When four bullets points are two or three words and one is a paragraph, it looks distinctly odd.

But if you're really struggling, don't kill yourself over it. If you have two or three words for each bullet point, and one of them happens to be a complete sentence while the rest are not, like "Include invoice" versus "Free shipping", I wouldn't go out of my way to figure out how to re-word that one to make it NOT a complete sentence.

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