Do you like bullet points?

by Raemon 8mo26th Mar 20191 min read38 comments

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I think more naturally in bullet points, and I (sometimes) like reading posts that are written in bullet style. (This website is one of my favorites, and is written entirely in bullets).

(Disclaimer, although I wrote this post in bullet points because it was cute, I don't think it's the best exemplar of them. Or rather, it's an example of using bullet points to do rough thinking, rather than an example of using them to illustrate a complex argument)

I like bullet points because:

  • It's easier to skim, and build up a high level understanding of a post's structure. If you understand a concept you can skip it and move on, if you want to drill down and understand it better you can do so.
    • Relatedly, it exposes your cruxes more readily. You can pick out and refute points, in a way that can be harder with meandering prose.
  • It's easier to hash out early stage ideas. When I'm first thinking about something, my brain is jumping around and forming connections, developing a model at multiple levels of resolution. Bullet lists make this easier to keep track of.
    • I like this for other people's posts as well, since it feels more playful, like I can be part of their early generation process. I think LessWrong would be better if more people wrote more unpolished things to get early feedback on them, and bullet lists are a nice way to signal that something is still in development.
  • Prose often adds unnecessary cruft. In the transition from bullets-to-prose, posts can go 2x-3x as long (or, when I go to write a short bullet summary of something I wrote in prose, it turns out to be much shorter, and the prose mostly unnecessary)

I had assumed this was a common experience, and that it was in fact a weakness of humanity that we didn't have better, more comprehensive bullet-point tools.

But, alas, Typical Mind Fallacy. It turned out a couple people on the LessWrong team reacted very negatively to bullet points. Concerns include:

  • It's easy to think you've communicated more clearly than you have, because you didn't bother writing the connecting words between paragraphs.
  • They're harder to read straight through. If you include bold words, readers might not bother reading the non-bold words, and miss nuance.
  • "I like numbered arguments, since that makes it easier to respond to individual points. But unnumbered bullet lists are just hard to parse."
    • [Alas, the LessWrong website currently doesn't enable this very well because our Rich Editor's implementation of numbered lists was annoying]
  • "I dunno man it's just really hard to read. My brain keeps trying to collapse the bullets like they're code."

I asked a couple more people, and they said "I dunno, bullet points seem fine. Depends on the situation?"

So...

I am curious what the LessWrong userbase thinks about them overall. Raise your hand if you think bullet points are fine? Terrible? Great? Any particular types of posts you prefer reading bullet-style, and types of posts you think fare poorly if not written in prose?

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