How to create compelling bullet points

July 18, 2012

Blog posts, Tweets, video clips, the Facebook timeline, and tens of thousands of images pinned to digital boards are flying past us faster than we can read them. Faster than we can even scan them, for the most part!

For writers and marketers trying to stand out in the masses this means you’d better know how to write a compelling headline, and you’d better know how to write bullet points to grab – and keep – your reader’s interest. Your copy doesn’t necessarily need to be short, but it needs to be readable.

But, why bullets? Surely they’re not the way to winning prose… Perhaps not, but they keep people reading like nothing else. The best way to make sense of an idea, especially online, is not to dumb it down for readers, but to break it into digestible chunks. Yes, bullets!

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 Age 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. It goes without saying, but you MUST deliver then on the promise that you make.

According to Brian Clark, who wrote “Bullet Points 101”, here is a summary of what an effective bullet is and does.

  1. In expressing a clear benefit and promise to the reader, your bullets are effectively mini-headlines. They encourage the scanning reader to go back into the real meat of your content, or go forward with your call to action.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Practice parallelism. Keep your bullet groups thematically related, begin each bullet with the same part of speech, and maintain the same grammatical form.
  5. Remember that bullets (like headlines) are not necessarily sentences. If you want to write complete sentences, stick with a paragraph or a numbered list.