Bullet Style

By Jean Reynolds

Bullet style is an effective and time-saving way to organize details in a police report. Instead of writing a complete sentence about each detail, you organize your information in lists. Each item in the list is marked with a symbol called a “bullet.”

Officers are sometimes wary about using bullet style, since it’s a type of writing not taught in traditional writing courses. The fact is, though, that you already know most of what you need to learn: After all, you’ve been writing lists for years in your everyday life. Once you give bullet style a try in a police report, you’ll probably find it much easier than laboring to write a complete sentence for every fact.

Bullet style offers you several advantages:

  • It’s often faster than writing complete sentences
  • It helps you avoid long, tangled sentences that can lead to grammar mistakes
  • It automatically helps you organize details for your report
  • It’s saves time when you’re reviewing information later on (for example, preparing for a court appearance)

Here’s an example to help you get started. Version 1 is information from a police report organized in traditional sentences. Version 2 presents some of the same information in bullet style.

Version 1 (traditional paragraph):

Donna Riley told me she went into her bedroom and realized someone had gone through her personal belongings. The contents of drawers had been dumped on the floor. She called 9-1-1. Then she started sorting through the pile on the floor to see if anything was missing. She couldn’t find a cameo pin that had belonged to her great-grandmother. A diamond ring was also missing, along with three sets of gold earrings.

Version 2 (includes bullets):

Donna Riley told me she went into her bedroom and realized someone had gone through her personal belongings. The contents of drawers had been dumped on the floor. She called 9-1-1.

Riley sorted through the pile on the floor and found these items were missing:

    • a cameo pin that had belonged to her great-grandmother
    • diamond ring
    • three sets of gold earrings

Here are some tips for using bullet style effectively:

  1. Don’t try to use bullets for all your information. Bulleted lists work best when you have several items of related information.
  2. Use a complete sentence and a colon to introduce each set of bullets.
  3. The introductory sentence should usually include an appropriate word or phrase like “these,” “several,” or “the following.”

Here are some useful sentences for introducing a bulleted list:

I took the following actions:

[Name] reported these items as missing:

I dusted these items for fingerprints:

I interviewed the following people:

These people also had keys to the house:

Here are two more examples of bullet style that you can use as models.

Example 1

Weigel told me:

    • He went to bed at about 12:30 Tuesday night
    • He did not see or talk to anyone Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning
    • His relationship with Joan Conners was over
    • He never threatened to hurt her

Example 2

I did the following:

    • handcuffed William Jelinek
    • called for a backup
    • called for an ambulance
    • asked Sarah Thomas to sit with Toni Jelinek until the ambulance came

Bullet style is both efficient and easy to learn. The short amount of time needed to master bullet style will pay dividends again and again in your criminal justice career.

Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), cowritten with the late Mary Mariani. Go to http://amzn.com/0578082942 for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Guide to Report Writing for Officers.

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