Re: Periods and bullets

Subject: Re: Periods and bullets
From: Peter Neilson <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
To: nosnivel -at- netvision -dot- net -dot- il
Date: Thu, 02 Apr 2009 10:35:42 -0400

In discussions of programming style, it is often suggested that every
item in a list receive the same punctuation, if allowed by the
programming language. For instance in Perl,

for my $item (@needed_items) {
push @items, (
"A red $item in blue trim",
"A blue $item in red trim",
"A white $item in grey trim",
);
}

Note the comma at the end of the third item. Perl's syntax does not
require it, but neither is it forbidden. It is a good idea because it
allows one to move items around, or to add them to or remove them from
the list, without having to re-fiddle the punctuation.

If one were to follow the same principle in tech writing, one would
construct parallel bullet items that would all receive the same punctuation.

On the other hand, sometimes a bullet list (or especially a nested
bullet list) is a bad idea, and a totally different treatment is
appropriate. In my experience, bullet lists seem to arise from
PowderPoint presentations where the speaker (or the slide artist)
couldn't think of anything better. If I'm actually paying attention to
what I am writing when an SME hands me bullet lists, I can sometimes see
them for what they really are: yawn generators.

My wife, a quality engineer who has used bullet lists in presentations,
says that a proper bullet list should contain definitions. Each bulleted
term should be followed by its brief explanation:

* Bell curve. This is a normal distribution, appropriate for showing
data that distributes evenly about a mean value.

* Exponential curve. Yadda yadda sentence.

* Another curve. Another yadda sentence.

Without the additional sentence each item is serving only as an
aide-memoire to the speaker, who probably should be lecturing from notes
instead of slides. The usual sheaf of post-lecture bullet handouts is
notoriously useless. Perhaps the slides would be better used to show
pictures of the speaker's dog.
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References:
RE: Periods and bullets: From: nosnivel -at- netvision -dot- net -dot- il

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