Long list of dot points: a neat solution

What to do when you have a long list of items of equal weight—and a numbered list is not appropriate? Above all, don't just vomit them out.

Communications dogma says un-ordered lists should be restricted to 3–7 items. This makes perfect sense: there are only so many points we can hold in our short-term memory before we forget how the list began.

Ideally, you should be able to see and grasp an entire dot point list at a glance. That means they shouldn't exceed 2 or 3 long items, or 3–7 short items. Fair enough?

  • You call them bullet points.
  • We call them dot points.
  • But then we're just gunless women.

The New Economics Party is brand new, just out of the egg, run by a committee of four. So we have to forgive their breach of the dot-point rule on a page that summarizes their policies. I looked at the 16 dot points stretching down the page and simply couldn't bear to read them all. My battered (egg-yolk?) wee brain ached for a sub-heading, or numbers, or—anything to help me perceive a hierarchy in their policies. I'm sure they'll sort it one of these days, but for now, look and remember why we don't do this:
Summary of New Economics Party policies in 16 dot points

Other organizations have solved the problem of publishing long lists of points with equal weight. On the pages of 37 Signals and 14 Theories, notice two significant tweaks:

  • We are told in advance how many points to expect, preventing that OMG-is-this-forever shudder.
  • The points are separated, given their own space and allowed to breathe.

The original 37signals manifesto: philosophy of the famous web design company.
14 Theories: Kingston, Ontario web development company's work philosophy

Image of toy gun belt from Halloweensupplycenter.com. Spare us.

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


1 Comment


November 23, 2011

Eeew, that “New Economics Pary” page is horrific! It looked like a page of continuous text that had had bullet points randomly assigned to points on the left hand margin.
I like the other models, great to see the difference.

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