Dead-Facts-to-Life

I am going to write this post with the view that you are an impatient reader. And that if there was a pill for fast acting knowledge and insight, you’d more than likely take it. Impatient readers love bullet points. But that doesn’t mean you can get away with a random shopping list of facts and features and expect the love to keep giving. At best, such an approach communicates a lack of writerly competence; at worst it communicates plain laziness. So use bullet points thoughtfully.

Now before we get into the fascination that makes for effective bullet points, with two case studies that demonstrate this, here are the 4 essentials of writing of bullet points:

  1. Call attention to something that benefits the reader (this will take us directly to the fascination side of this article)
  2. Keep them symmetrical – roughly the same number of lines on the screen or page.
  3. Keep them uncluttered — avoid subsections and sub-bullets.
  4. Keep them parallel – begin each bullet with the same part of speech, if one starts with a noun, don’t make the next one a verb.

Good bullets points (like headlines) aren’t always complete sentences, but do keep them consistent with one another. Notice that bullet points can be in a numbered list (as above), or they can be “unordered” bullets. If the introduction sentence of bullet points states a number (as above), then use numbers in the bullet points. If not, then you can opt for the dots.

Now for “fascinations”. It’s an old direct mail copywriting term, meaning the intriguing element or aspect of a subject matter’s feature that can be teased out and used to entice your audience. Fascinations are written to be so compelling and benefit-driven that the reader can’t help but want to discover the answer.

The formula goes like this:

FEATURE FACT + UNIQUE BENEFIT = RESISTANCE IS FUTILE

Here is a classic example from Bottom Line Secrets, a subscription periodical on how to make life easier:

While it may break the symmetry rule, you can’t deny the strong desire to find out the answer to each bullet point.

So how do you do fascinations?

Here are two case studies from my Copywriting classes to demonstrate fascinations. The red highlights the fascination of each feature fact.

CASE STUDY 1 | TARGET AUDIENCE – FRANCHISE BOTTLE SHOP OWNERS:

(“Buy in the green” is trade talk referring to the buying season. An important point here is to write in language familiar to your target audience).

 

CASE STUDY 2 | TARGET AUDIENCE – VCE STUDENTS CONSIDERING INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT UNIVERSITY TO COMPLIMENT THEIR COMMERCE OR LAW/HUMANITIES DEGREE:

Whether your aim is to make the world a better place or create success in international business, this course is designed to open the gateway to your global career.

CASE STUDY #3 | TARGET AUDIENCE – MILITARY DECISION-MAKERS LOOKING TO UP-GRADE THEIR MILITARY’S VIRTUAL BATTLESPACE (VBS) SIMULATED TRAINING PROGRAM.

Nothing can truly prepare your troops for the real battlefield, but VBS3 comes closer than ever before:

VBS3 uses highest end gaming visualization and immersion, heightening senses to the point where even taste and smell senses are alerted

VBS3 uses the leading-edge in state-of-the-art gaming intuitive interfacing, making your troops completely one with the virtual battle field

VBS3 adapts to cutting edge training and development, so you capitalize on years of ingenuity from developers who are on the bleeding edge

VBS3 crosses ever-new boundaries with Sim-expert customer feedback so you can easily customise it to meet ever-changing military needs

VBS3 enables joint training exercises across defense forces to more effectively accommodate,  prepare and coordinate a unified action plan

VBS3 generates terrain as far as the eye can see, opening your scope of vision to the bigger picture and a far greater capacity of foresight

 

The key to a fascination is dangling the benefit in a teasing manner, compelling the reader to either seek the answer or complete the story with their own hoped for, aspirational or desired outcome.

To conclude on the father of modern communications (and a mother of a communicator!), Bill Bernbach, “Our job is to bring the dead facts to life”.

 

13 Responses

  1. I’ll never write bullet points the same way again! This is a great way to please the impatient reader (and writer!) more completely

  2. I think I often resort to bullet points and trying to put a wow factor on everything.

    Can they and fascinations be used as substantiation, or are they just interest injectors?

  3. I too often revert to bullet points automatically, but at least if I do it’s good to know how to make them worthwhile! When not executed correctly they really do look lazy, you’re right. I’d never thought of it that way before.

    These were great case studies and examples by the way!

  4. I have in the past use bullet point, well to be honest out of laziness. And I won’t lie, It will most probably still be the main motivator behind using them in future, but at least now I can fashion my lazy tendency into engaging, interesting and informative points.

  5. Great article that brings me back, yet again, to being other focused. Good to have these tips that remind me to consider what’s in it for the target audience, rather than just presenting bite size chunks of information. I think I’ll make this my motto! – “Bring dead facts to life”

  6. I have for a long time used billet points as a way of distilling larg ideas down to manigable sentences and then add a dash of creativity to join them together. I can see this information been very helpfull in applying bullet points in new and more refined ways.

  7. I enjoyed Bill Bernbach’s quote about bringing dead facts to life! Great post again and a good refresher from last week. I am much the same as a previous commenter, that I try and arrange information into more manageable chunks or sentences as a way of structuring it rather than focusing on the benefits. And of course having a well thought out and planned communication brief will aid that process. So much to learn and improve but getting there!

  8. This is great. I’ve just be working on a proposal this morning that used bullet points. Now I’ve revised and made sure each bullet includes the fascination element. I have to say it already reads a lot better than my first draft. Now to do some more re-writing!

  9. I think I tend to focus on simply breaking up the information into manageable chunks rather than ensuring each point is benefit based, so thank you for the tips.

    When I first learnt to write long copy marketing collateral, I was told that people are more likely to read copy when it is presented in shorter, odd-numbered bullet points/packages. The reason being, the human brain is better able to process and retain information when it is displayed in odd-numbered chunks, ideally groups of three, give or seven. I would be interested to know whether you believe the power of odd numbers theory is beneficial in this instance?

    1. Hey this is fascinating stuff Christie. Would this be according to Abreena Tompkins’ brain-based online course design model? If so, the evidence is pretty solid considering her meta-analysis of more than 300 articles. My investigation suggests that while it is easier to create symmetry by balancing elements in twos, odd numbers force movement and visual interest toward harmony. MY conclusion is that odd numbers activate the reader into participating in the narrative with the aim of returning their cognitive dissonance (odd numbers) back to cognitive harmony (even numbers).

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