Like them or not, bullet points will keep people reading your blog posts, pages, articles, and copy like nothing else …
Let’s take a quick look at how to write bullet points well.
The basics of writing bullet points that work
The essence of a great bullet is brevity + promise.
Brevity has been a hallmark of good writing since writing began, but every one of us living in the Twitter era possesses an acute awareness of just how important brevity is right now.
Long, complex bullet points would defeat the purpose of writing bullets at all — to keep your reader moving through your copy.
Promise is the element that hooks your reader like a fish. You’re making a plain and legitimate claim that your product/idea/service will give them what they’ve been looking for.
Goes without saying (but of course I’m going to say it anyway), you absolutely must deliver on the promise you make. There are probably faster ways of ruining your credibility and career, but not giving your reader what you promised is definitely in the top three.
Brian Clark wrote the definitive “Bullet Points 101” post more than five years ago. Go ahead and read that through at your earliest convenience.
Seriously, here’s that link again — click it and read that post about 10 times.
And, since I’d rather straight up steal from Clark than try to outwrite him in this area, here’s his summary of what an effective bullet point is and does:
- A bullet expresses a clear benefit and promise to the reader. That’s right… they’re mini-headlines. Bullets encourage the scanning reader to go back into the real meat of your content, or go forward with your call to action.
- Keep your bullet points symmetrical if possible; meaning, one line each, two lines each, etc. It’s easier on the eyes and therefore easier on the reader.
- Avoid bullet clutter at all costs. Do not get into a detailed outline jumble of subtitles, bullets and sub-bullets. Bullets are designed for clarity, not confusion.
- Practice parallelism. Keep your bullet groups thematically related, begin each bullet with the same part of speech, and maintain the same grammatical form.
- Remember that bullets (like headlines) are not necessarily sentences. If you want to write complete sentences, stick with a paragraph or a numbered list.
Now that we’re standing on a firm foundation, let’s move into how to actually write these bullets …
8 ways to write bullet points that work
You may have seen writers complain about the proliferation of “listicles” in recent years.
The thing is, the elitists don’t know what they’re talking about. Again, in this fast, short, and constantly evolving digital world, she who makes sense first, wins.
And one of the best ways to make sense of an idea — especially online — is not to dumb it down, it’s to break it up into digestible chunks.
Bullet points can be a great way to do that — but don’t just rely on the stale, simplistic bullet point types you’re using now. Expand your range and add these to your copy tollbox:
- External Fascinations: These types of fascinating bullet points are usually found in sales copy. They create curiosity and work like headlines to prompt a purchase or other action.
- Internal Fascinations: Internal fascinations are pretty much identical to external, except they’re designed to persuade people to continue reading the post they’re already reading.
- Bullet Chunking: Extracting bullets out of compound sentences helps you drive home a point while also increasing the usability of your content.
- Authority Bullets: Authority bullets are used to recite the data and proof that support your argument. As with all persuasive writing, turn dry factual information into interesting reading any time you can.
- Cliffhanger Bullets: Cliffhanger bullets tease and foreshadow what’s coming up next or in the near future. You can also use cliffhanger bullets to lay the groundwork for an upcoming promotion, launch, or special content event.
If you want to know more specifics about how to write those (including examples), check out this classic Copyblogger post on useful bullet point types.
And — as a little bonus — Ben Settle expanded on Brian’s post with a few more bullet types of his own.
Here’s a few of Ben’s favorite bullet point secrets:
- Give-Away Bullets: These are sort of like the lady who hands out cheese cubes at the grocery store. She gives people a little “taste” of food that keeps them alert and shopping — and many times they end up with the thing they tasted in the shopping cart.
- Expansion Bullets: These bullets break up the “sameness” of the page (when you have several pages of bullets), and they add more tease, demonstration and curiosity. Plus, they give a nice little “loop” effect to your ad that keeps sucking the reader back in.
- “Can’t Be Done” Bullets: Basically, this is where you say something that is almost unbelievable. Something 100% true, but that is so wacky and “out there” it makes you say, “How in the heck can you do that?”
Congratulations, you now know more about bullet points than most working copywriters.
And here’s the simplest shortcut to jump start you in the art of the bullet …
A simple shortcut to writing bullet points that work
Craft each bullet as if it were to serve as your your headline.
The goal here is to achieve, uh … headlineability with each bullet.
You won’t achieve perfection with each and every bullet you write, but if you stick to this principle generally, writing them gets much easier over time.
And, more important, those beautiful little bulleted lines will keep your readers running down your page like water on a slide.