Bulleted lists for web page content: readability

25 Aug 2010 - 1:06pm
6 years ago
4 replies
1924 reads

Has anyone out there done any research on the readability of web page content that is formatted mainly with bulleted lists?

I thought I had seen some research studies on this (which I can't find now for some reason), and I know there was a move a few years back which recommended using bulleted content for quick scanability. I personally find the content more difficult to understand with all those bullets, and if it is not in a normal paragraph format.

What are your thoughts? Thanks!


25 Aug 2010 - 5:50pm

I've only read a piece on scannability by Jakob Nielsen, but personally, I feel the use of bulleted lists depends on your content. Points should be consistent and concise, using either keywords or the most relevant information you hope the viewer takes away from that document. If your points are several sentences a piece, they should be paragraphs.

In a way, this sort of reminds me of the kind of abuse we see in PowerPoint presentations. The purpose of slides is to briefly highlight the important stuff and act as a visual aid, not to be read from verbatim. Similarly, bulleted lists require brevity to be scannable and effective.


26 Aug 2010 - 8:44am

It really depends on both the content of the site and the tasks of the user.  Bulleted lists facilitate scanning, but only for short amounts of text.  So adding too much to each bullet defeats the purpose - this is the balance between providing good scanning and detail.  

Not sure of the purpose of your site, but keep in mind that folks tend to be in "scan mode" for much of the web experience.  There is something like a three second rule, where folks will tend to abandon a site rather quickly if they don't see what they're looking for.  They might not stick around too long if you're asking them to wade through paragraphs and paragraphs of text . 

26 Aug 2010 - 10:47am

Hi, thanks for the input! This is a university site, geared to prospective students, essentially a captive audience hoping to learn everything they can about the program before committing to applying. You've made some good points.

27 Aug 2010 - 9:12am

Hrmmmm....I wouldn't assume your audience is "captive" , considering they are >prospecive< students.  Given the marketing aspect of your site, I would make even more sure that your users can get to the info they need before they give up.  Sounds like pretty high stakes.  Since you're not really sure what they will be looking for, you may want to rely on a more "progressive disclosure" approach.   Provide the bullet points up front with a summary, and allow the user to dig in once they find an area of interest.   This is a pretty standard design technique, but you may want to emphasize it for your site. 



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