A row has broken out on Twitter (hard to believe, I know. Twitter folk are normally so placid). The blame for this can be laid squarely at the feet of the Guardian Style Guide, which, with all the sensitivity of Liam Stacey, has provocatively declared that bullet points should always end with full stops:
@caimin: Full stop at the end of a bullet point?
@guardianstyle: Yes. Every time. Like this.
@AngrySubEditor: I disagree. If it's not a sentence, it has no right to claim a full stop. Treat them like headlines and captions.
@johnemcintyre: There go abbreviations.
@AngrySubEditor: Points in abbreviations are falling out of favour. Who writes N.A.T.O.?
@SnoozeInBrief: Rare to see them in pronounceable acronyms; less rare in say U.S.A. Still OTT though.
@caffyrelf: Woo! Fight! *pom poms*. I think US English uses full stops more than UK.
Luckily for me, I can usually impose whatever style I want. On the rare occasions when it's someone else's call, house style strangely seems to start looking like my style even when it's officially something different. And my house style is not to punctuate bullet points.
To me, they're part of the furniture, like picture captions and headlines, or, in another context, roadsigns and advertising slogans. Those don't take full stops, even if they're complete sentences, although they can take question marks. There's also my own subconscious snobbery, which seems to be telling me that all writing should resemble either a newspaper story or a novel, in which the correct form for text is the paragraph. Bullet points, on the other hand, are the calling cards of the junior marketing executive's PowerPoint presentation, Slide 3 of which usually reads like this:
- SWOT analysis.
- Leveraging innovative marketing solutions.
- Optimised EBITDA.
- Globalized outreach.
Slide 4, of course, features a picture of a cricketer or baseball player with the caption: “Working here should always be a SLOG!!!”, preferably in a hideous font, italicised, in at least three colours. At this point, holding down your lunch is usually a higher priority than wondering whether the full stops are necessary.
I'll admit I have left them in when the author has written bullet points that are mini-essays in themselves, but such pieces are usually beyond rescue already.
The admirable John McIntyre concluded it was a “pointless discussion” (yes I got the joke too), and in a sense, he's right. Unlike the arguments about 'imply' vs 'infer', there isn't a wrong belief that needs to be countered. It's a question of style, which ultimately becomes a question of personal preference.
But that doesn't make the discussion irrelevant. One of the beauties of Twitter is that it brings together people with similar interests who can share ideas. None of us are megalomaniacs trying to impose our irrational linguistic prejudices on the rest of the world; we just want to promote a culture of clarity and graceful expression through the written word*. I've read hundreds of books and papers that were beyond reproach in terms of their correct English, but were still ugly, unreadable or unbearably dull. Correct vocabulary, grammar and punctuation are not ends in themselves.
So, here's my rule for the smallest glyph on your keyboard. It has two functions only:
As a full stop or period, ending a sentence in body textAs a decimal point
I'll also use it as a marker between lower-case initials (i.e. and e.g. are the only common ones), but it's unnecessary and confusing for abbreviations, where it can be confused with a full stop (see SnoozeInBrief's use of U.S.A. above).
Moral: Using full stops in bullet points is just dotty.
*This goal will be achieved as soon as EVERYONE AGREES WITH ME.