I’m for the right to bear arms, but bulleted lists are right out.


Bulleted lists, enigma of the eBook world. To use or not to use? Therein is the problem, and as often as I’ve researched the matter I’ve never found anyone who had a straight answer. I’ve found tutorials on how to do them, I’ve found naysayers who say to never use them, and I’ve found people who love them.

Well, after a lot of experimentation and research I have decided to become one of the naysayers. And I’m going to give you a straight answer as to why – isn’t that nice of me?

First, let’s look at bulleted lists. There are two kinds.

  • The kind that have a nifty little black “bullet” before each entry.
  • The kind that has a number or letter before each entry
  • As demonstrated in this list, or that other list. Depending.
  1. The kind that have a nifty little black “bullet” before each entry.
  2. The kind that has a number or letter before each entry
  3. As demonstrated in this list, or that other list. Depending.

These can be very handy little things, especially inĀ  nonfiction books. They tidy things up. Hooray! However, there’s a dark side to these lists. Take a look at the following image.

See all those words that start with N-? The ones that read “No”. See the line that reads “Support for numbered and bulleted lists”? See the two No’s after it in the nice, neat little table? That is why you don’t use bulleted lists.

Now you’re asking me, “What happens if I use them anyway?” Well, for the KindleFire, Nook Color, BeBook, and various other systems you get bullets – providing you did them properly. That’s wonderful if you’re okay with shaving your audience down by how many thousands of people out there who own older or alternative ereaders and either cannot afford to get a newer version or simply do not want to. Those people don’t get to see the little black bullet. They get a strange square or a confusing question mark. Their list numbers slide off the left edge of their screen, and their document is a big mess.

So what do you do about that?

One answer split into two different solutions: You do them manually.

  • For the little black bullet, replace it with an asterick (*) or another standard symbol. Don’t use alternative symbols if you can: they also run the likelihood of becoming confused and turning into question marks.
  • For your numbered list, put the number at the start of the entry by hand as part of the sentence. In other words, don’t let Word (or whatever you’re using) automate it.
  • For the same of having a third item on this bulleted list, let me just reiterate that <ul> and <ol> are wonderful codes to use but should be avoided in eBooks.

You can make the lists a bit more “bulleted like” by changing your style in the CSS or by word to make the lines different. Instead of indenting the list by only .3″ as you would your paragraph, indent them by .6″ – name the style “Bullet” (which also happens to be the name of my dog). It’s that simple.

So there’s the straight answer. Don’t use bulleted lists – make pseudo bulleted lists. If you do them right, they look just as good without the problems you’d get the other way around.


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