Use SmartArt to create a more interesting bulleted list in Word

Ordinary bullets are adequate for most Word documents, but when you need to add more style, try SmartArt.

SmartArt has grown up and despite admonishments from the experts, I think it creates some visually interesting effects. For instance, you can turn an ordinary bulleted list into an interesting, eye-catching display in just seconds. To illustrate, let's turn the list shown below into something a bit more interesting.

First, select the list and press [Ctrl]+X to delete it from the text and copy it to the Clipboard. If that makes you a bit antsy, copy it to another spot in the document or to another open document. Now, here's where SmartArt comes in:

  1. With the insertion point positioned where you want the list to appear, click the Insert tab.
  2. Click SmartArt in the Illustrations group.
  3. Choose list in the left pane.
  4. Select one of the list options by selecting it and clicking OK.
  5. In the text pane (to the left), highlight the template bullets and press [Ctrl]+V to copy the bulleted text from the Clipboard.

At this point, you could consider yourself done, but this particular list has three subitems. You can quickly integrate them into the SmartArt list as follows:

  1. In the text pane (to the left of the list), select a subitem.
  2. On the Design contextual tab, click Promote in the Create Graphic group.
  3. Next, you'll probably want to move the item's margin, to visual indicate its position. The item should be selected, but if it isn't, click it. Then, use the move handle to move the item's left border to the right. Doing so will decrease both the left and right margins.
  4. Repeat this process to integrate the remaining subitems.

Using the contextual Design and Format tabs, you can change the color scheme and more. Using the Change Shape dropdown in the Shapes group, you can even change the shape of an item to emphasis it.

SmartArt it isn't right for every publication, so use it wisely.

Editor's note: An example word document is provided as an aide to understanding this technique.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.


This procedure was not explained very well. And the final result, whatever that is supposed to be, looks ridiculous.


If you work for a gov't entity, you are required to make all documents accessible. Smart art bullets are not accessible, though they can be "cute". I agree with andmark, use judiciously if at all.


Nice article. The use of Smartart to improve the appearance of bulletted lists is a good idea. But as you say in the final sentence it should be used wisely. Perhaps a few style tips should be added to the end of the article to avoid visual outcomes like the one in the article, which is not necessarily a visual improvement. I remember when slide transitions and timed animations came into Powerpoint, and the subsequent generations of poor deliveries that resulted from people who insisted on including them. It might very well follow that you are creating the next generation of Microsoft feature misuse that audiences will hate you for. It is kind of like giving a monkey a gun...