Do you like bullet points?

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?