Monday, February 28, 2011

Between the Bullet Points

I sat down this morning to write a slide set for a client. The first slide looked something like this:

Endpoint Download:
- Download from endpoint foo
- Route to endpoints bar, bat, baz
- Physician registration required for routing
- Admin registration required for download

Sounds great, right?

Here's the trouble:
I really don't understand this project at all. I know there are physicians, and there are admins, and there's a ball of goo that gets downloaded and somehow parts or all of it get routed to physicians. I have no idea what's in the ball of goo or how I know how to route stuff, or what the relationship is between physicians and admins. If you asked me to build this, I wouldn't know where to start.

That's the danger of bullet point writing.

If you can write a bullet point, you're demonstrating that you can write a phrase or even a whole sentence about this thing. That's all you've shown. Now, if you can keep going and write more, you may truly understand it. If you can't get beyond the bullet points, though, then there's a problem. You don't really get it, and you particularly have demonstrated that you don't really understand how the bullet points relate.

Writing bullet points shows you are aware of your subject and possibly even different aspects of your subject. It does not show you understand how the subject and aspects of the subject relate to each other.

Bullet points provide awareness. Understanding is in the space between the bullets.

Next time you write some bullet points, go ahead and do it. Then write a paragraph explaining the relationship between the bullet points. How does bullet point A affect bullet point B? What about bullet point C? How does that fit in? It doesn't matter if you throw the paragraph away when you're done; the simple act of writing it will tell you whether you understand.

Bullets are great. They're short and easy to read. Just make sure you understand the whole story.

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