Bullet points make a sequence of important ideas easy to read. When those near-perfect little circles are vertically aligned, readers can quickly process the text. Yet too many bullet points in an eLearning course or slide presentation can be repetitious and mind-numbing. That’s why you need bullet point alternatives to mix things up.
Learners and audiences need novelty to maintain and sustain attention. The trick for going beyond bullet points is to think visually. By sprinkling in bullet point alternatives here and there, your minimal use of bullets will be more effective.
Here are six bullet point alternatives you can create in any graphics program or in PowerPoint. If you’re interested in more visual design ideas, see my book, Visual Design Solutions.
Bullet Point Alternative 1: Use text boxes
A simple alternative to a list is to place each item into a a text box that is arranged in a suitable layout. With this approach, each point is more pronounced than in a list. It can also be accomplished easily with basic graphic tools and in PowerPoint. Below, what could have been a bullet list of eLearning design skills is placed in horizontally arranged text boxes with a 1 pixel border.
Bullet Point Alternative 2: Use icons to indicate the topic
Using the same text box idea as above, this approach adds icons to the mix. Not only does this add visual appeal, but it suggests what the topic is about. An image may also work as a mnemonic device to help a person retain information. If you need help finding suitable icons, check my Icon Collections page in Resources for suggestions.
Here is a similar idea using long horizontal boxes. The text is longer than a phrase, but this could work with a shorter statement.
Bullet Point Alternative 3: Let People Speak Your List
If your learning design includes scenarios, you can use the characters to speak your bullets as shown below. This can work well as a summary of key points. When you use people cutouts to speak your points, no one will suspect this is a bullet list.
Bullet Point Alternative 4: Wrap the list around a muted picture
Another simple approach is to find a relevant silhouette or cutout of a person or object. Then wrap the bullet list around the silhouette or shape, gently following its contours. I prefer to use silhouettes when I want the text to be prominent. Silhouettes are a subtle way to add visual appeal without being too obtrusive.
Bullet Point Alternative 5: Draw a Diagram
Then there’s the diagram approach. Use a radial diagram when information is at the same level. Place the topic or category in a circle or ellipse in the center. Then place spokes around this shape in the form of arrows or pointers. Place what would have been a bullet list item at the end of each spoke.
For alternatives to the radial design, consider a hierarchical chart when there are key points and sub-points. Also experiment with PowerPoint’s predefined diagrams. Just remember to use grouping principles so learners will know which items are related to each other.
Bullet Point Alternative 6: Create a Table
If you analyze your content carefully, you might find that several bullet lists can be associated into one category. If so, you may be able to transform your bullet list into a table. The wondrous thing about a table format is that the values can be either words or numbers. In the media format example below, different multimedia file formats (on the right) are organized into a table by media type (on the left). This was able to replace four separate bullet lists.
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