Extended lists

Subject: Extended lists
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Mon, 2 Dec 1996 08:30:07 -0600

Beth Mazur wondered about the readability of bulleted (or
numbered) lists in which the second and subsequent lines of
each item wrap back to the left margin. The problem with
this approach is that it defeats the purpose of using the
bullets: We set bullets outside the text so that they're
easy to scan. If you wrap the text outside the bullets, the
bullets merge visually with the rest of the paragraphs, and
no longer serve this purpose.

You can demonstrate this effect via a quick experiment:
Prop up two test pages (one with the indented bullets, one
without) so that you can read them from a distance, like an
vision chart. Move far enough away so that you can't
distinguish individual words. At this distance, you'll be
able to see the shapes of individual paragraphs, but not
the words. With a properly indented bulleted list, you'll
easily detect the bulleted list as different from the
regular paragraphs because you can see the blank space that
represents the indents (the bullets may be invisibly
small); in the other page, you won't be able to detect the
presence of the list.

This test is a good one because it mimics how readers see a
printed page: first, they identify functional chunks
(paragraphs and headings), and only then do they focus
closer and see the individual words.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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