Using Bullet Points In An Essay

Use Bullet Points and Sub-Paragraphs in Your Academic Essay

Once upon a time, bullet points and sub-paragraphs were not allowed in academic writing assignments. It was felt by the writing experts and educators, that those devices were too informal to be used in formal essays. But studies were conducted that determined that readers process what they are reading in short chunks and their eyes are drawn to bullet points. So for today’s writers, it is important and imperative that they use bullet points and sub-paragraphs in academic essays for better delivery and better comprehension (for the reader).

The researched materials will be easier to format for the writer and the paper will be easier to process for the reader when applying bullet points and sub-paragraphs. Using bullet points and sub-paragraphs just makes sense for both parties. Make sure you know when it is acceptable to use them and when you should not implement them in your writing.

Use Bullet Points Wisely and Appropriately

Exhibit some control when using bullet points in your academic essays; you do not want your paper to look as if it has a bad case of the measles. Some appropriate ways to use bullet points in your paper might be:

  • With listings
  • With examples
  • To shorten a description
  • To provide support
  • In a step-by-step procedure
  • For ingredients or components
  • Definitions

Monitor how often you use them, as well. Make sure that you have no more than ¼ of your academic paper written in bullet point form.

There are also times when you should not use bullet points in your academic essay. Some of these instances might be:

  • For your thesis statement
  • In the introductory paragraph
  • In the conclusion
  • In a story or a example needing detailed information
  • In your hook or attention-getter
  • For quotes


If a topic is lengthy and requires much explanation or many details, the sub-paragraph would be an appropriate tool for delivery. An example may be a listing of scientific compounds and then an explanation or a definition for each scientific compound. Another example might be a genre listing and then a definition of each genre in literature. Using sub-paragraphs is good for delivering large amounts of data and details in various subject essays.

Times have changed, and writing practices and accepted procedures have changed too. Use bullet points and sub-paragraphs in your academic writing for better delivery and easier reading and comprehension.

Using Bullet Points In Academic Paper Writing

There are so many variations in academic writing that, in order to effectively format your paper, you must complete a few things first and foremost.

  1. The first and most important step is to verify what style of formatting you are required to follow. Your class and/or assignment overview should have specific formatting style requirements listed. If it isn’t included in the information given, inquire with your instructor or supervisor to determine the best way to plan your paper.
  2. The second is to then do a quick refresher about the style chosen to assess whether or not the format you had in mind will work within its requirements. Each format style has its own individual requirements when it comes to lists, citations, and the inclusion of different kinds of information.

Bullet Points and Format Style

Bullet points within an academic paper are one of those things that aren’t allowed in every style. The most common style to utilize bullet points regularly is APA, or American Psychological Association style. Most commonly, this style is used for papers and source citations in the social sciences.

Decide if Bullets are Appropriate

Once you’ve ensured that bullet points are allowed in the formatting style you are required to use, the next step is to determine the best way to highlight your information.

Would the information be better highlighted if it were in numbered list format? If the information presented must be displayed in a certain order, a numbered list might be a better option. If, however, the order in which it is presented isn’t a factor, then a bullet list would work best.

If you list is short, you might consider using another format to share the information – such as listing it out or including it in a small paragraph. With many bits of information, the bullet list does remain a good option.

Confirm the Bullet Formatting Requirements

Most often, bullets should be indented by at least an inch from the left margin. Also, most lists included in academic papers must be double spaced and properly referenced.

Including Bullets

As you include the bulleted information in your academic paper, make sure that they are all consistent. Tense, consistent format and length, and consistent punctuation are all important.

Once you’ve created your list of bullets, it is important to make sure you use a strong topic sentence that relates to the information you are sharing.

Ask for Help

If you are new to using bullets in an academic setting, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Instructors and supervisors are there to assist you as you prepare to share important research information.

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