The typographic use of bullets and dingbats is conceptually unknown to typists. Lists are at the core of non-fiction and blog typography. Bulleted lists are an extremely effective means of attracting the reader’s attention—as are numbered lists. In fact, there has been a lot of study to find out what readers see and respond to.
There are specific paragraph types you can use effectively to attract the reader’s eye or to re-attract it if it is wandering in boredom.
The readership order of paragraphs goes like this:
- First, picture captions—
- Everyone looks at the pictures first.
- Photos are checked out before drawings, unless the illustrations are exceptional.
- The caption should be the synopsis of the major benefit in the story to the reader.
- Second, headlines—primarily because of size and placement. The headline should also be the synopsis of the major benefit in the story to the reader. No reader reads everything. You need to get the attention of the people who will benefit from reading this particular article or chapter. You need to tell them why this story is important to them.
- Third, callouts or pull quotes—these are quotes pulled from the copy or statements about the copy that are enlarged to the point where they become interesting graphics in their own right. They are exceptionally valuable in pages of nothing but body copy—to capture the wandering eye. Care must be taken. An improperly pulled quote can change the editorial focus of the article.
- Fourth, bulleted or numbered lists—like this one. Bulleted lists are read by scanning readers before
- drop caps
- Pull quotes
With typesetting we have even more options than simple bullets. Dingbats are fonts made up of graphics. Every keystroke is a different graphic. Zapf Dingbats is a font that almost everyone has on a Mac. The ones above are from three of the MiniPics fonts. Almost everyone has several dingbat fonts, even if they don’t know it.
Font creation programs allow you to use a logo in a font. Programs like Fontographer and FontLab are the professional programs, but simple programs like TypeTool and SigMaker can do this easily. Top-quality dingbat fonts are a good way to pick up a collection of clip art that can be used as you type. For a time, dingbat fonts became one of the best sources of fashionable art. Using dingbats for bullets increases the attraction of the list. Just be careful that the reader is led to read the copy and not simply be amused by your graphic.
Often dingbats are graphic enough to make excellent starts or pieces of logos: You may want to buy several of these resources. MyFonts.com has a huge collection. Several type designers specialize in dingbats.
eReaders often have trouble with lists
They commonly make all numbered lists into one long list of numbers throughout the entire book. It has been impossible, upon occasion, to restart the numbers for numbered lists. Most ereaders do not handle custom bullets. Blogs have troubles also because HTML is very limited.