Typography for Presentations – Bullets and Numbering

This is one in a series of posts on text in presentations.


There is no more maligned glyph in PowerPoint than the bullet, associated as it is with endless slides of dense, bulleted text. As a good presentation designer, you will find other ways to present your message and avoid overusing bullets.  However, bullets do clarify the organization of lists and, if you do PowerPoint for others, a few bullets are usually unavoidable.

Bulleted text is created by using a master slide place holder, or manually applying bullets to text. Using a placeholder promotes consistency, a good thing.

You do not have to use one of the default “content” layouts to use the placeholder; the placeholder from a content layout slide can be copied to other slides.

Here are my guidelines on bullets:

  • Don’t use the default bullets.
  • Use a simple bullet.  Avoid elaborately shaped and colored bullets; they are distracting. I almost always use the classical round bullet and occasionally use a checkmark or a ballot box “x” if it seems to help the message. Don’t use dashes, asterisks or other punctuation marks for bullets.

Commercial or free “templates” may come with elaborate bullets.  This is another reason these are usually a bad idea (see this post).

  • Use your theme colors for bullets, a different color for each level.
  • If you like, omit the bullet at the first level.
  • Avoid more than two levels; never, ever more than three.
  • Pay attention to the size of the bullet, relative to the text size; smaller bullets tend to disappear.
  • Pay attention to indents; adjust the indent for different font sizes (this is not automatic).
  • Use line spacing to emphasis the text organization (see previous post).


I think I have used 1-2-3 numbering once or twice in my illustrious career.  I have never used the more elaborate PowerPoint numbering options and I suggest you follow the same course.

Multi-level numbering schemes are used ostensibly to help the reader navigate through long and complex documents (usually legal/governmental).  If this seems right for your presentation, you should start again.

The next post in this series will discuss text in shapes.


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