Multilevel Lists: A Note on Bullets

The Bulleted List Selection Pane in Word
The MS Word Bulleted List Selection Pane

These days, we need more lists in our writing. For whatever reason, lists don't happen all that much in writing, at least in academic writing. Now, what I'm writing about is lists that break the flow of text rather than inline lists. Lists help to organize information in a structural way and in an organizational way, so it makes sense to make lists visual rather than textual.

Now, there's a bit of a conundrum in choice when creating lists. Does one use numbers and letters or does one use bullets and wingdings? The answer is quite simple: When writing a multilevel list, that is one with more than one level of information, it's best to use numbers and letters (or letters and numbers). Bullets and wingdings can be used for single-level lists. 
  • This is a bulleted item.
  • This is another bulleted item.
  • This is yet another bulleted item.
In the list above, there are three items that appear in an order. The bullets help to visually distinguish each item from the other items. 
  1. This is a numbered item.
  2. This is another numbered item.
  3. This is yet another numbered item.
Now, this second list actually adds some complexity to the mater, as the numbers signify some sort of hierarchy. The numbers help to distinguish each item from the other items, though a reader might assume that item one is more important than item two. 
  1. Here is a numbered item.
  • Here is a bulleted item.
In this list, bullets and n umbers are mixed. It simply doesn't make any sense. When creating lists, use one type of list identifier.
  • Here is a bulleted item.
    1. Here is a numbered item.
    2. Many stylists argue that each level in a list needs at least two items. With one item, why make a list, right?
  • Here is another bulleted item.
    1. This numbered item follow another bulleted item. 
Above, we have a multilevel list. It mixes bullets and numbers. The numbers might indicate some sort of hierarchy, though the bullets cannot. 
  • Here is a bulleted item.
    • Here is a bulleted sub-item.
      • Here is a bulleted sub item of a sub item.
Above, we see a three-tier list. Just look at that malarkey. Do we all know that solid circles are of a higher order than outlined circles., which are of a higher order than solid squares? Certainly not! There's no order to that multilevel list, so it would be best served with numbers and letters. One might argue that there isn't a universal rule to use numbers or letters first, and that's a valid argument. However, since our computers are wont to malign formatting, the numbers and letters will signify sub levels if there's a formatting problem. The different bullets might merely confuse readers. 

Please don't use bullets with numbers and letters.
Please don't mix bullets with numbers and letters.
Please relegate bullets to single-level lists.