COPYWRITING IN ACTION INSIGHT #57

Six minute read. Art by Cute Designs Studio

Speed is Bullet Points

While most of us like bullet points, scanners just love them. The more scannable the text, the faster it is to whoosh through. Bullet points are the bullet trains of copywriting.

Ironically, well-crafted bullet points can actually make the scanner slow down enough to become a reader.

But to begin with, you can’t get away with a slap-dash shopping list of facts and features. At best, such an approach communicates a lack of writerly competence; at worst, it communicates plain apathy. So here are 4 essentials to make sure you use bullet points thoughtfully:

  1. Call attention to something that benefits the reader.

They’re mini-headlines. As such, they encourage the scanner to be a reader and want to delve further into your copy.

     2. Keep them symmetrical at roughly the same number of lines.

Make them one or two lines each. Symmetry (when both sides of a shape are the same) makes it easier on the eyes which means easier on the reader.

     3. Unclutter points by avoiding subsections, sub-bullets, etc.

Bullets clarify, not confuse. But if you cannot avoid the extra information, write it as an “intercut” as I have done in this bullet list. In that way, your reader can still see your list of points clearly.

    4. Begin each bullet with the same part of speech (noun or verb).

Group your bullet points thematically; a bullet list generally unpacks one idea into its interrelated parts. And where verbs are used, keep them in the same tense (parallel verbs).

Good bullets points (like headlines) aren’t always complete sentences, but do keep them consistent with one another.

Note that bullet points can be numbered (as above), or dotted. If the bullet points’ introduction sentence states a number (as above), use numbers. If not, then use dots.

Brevity plus promise is the key to good bullet points. More specifically, the formula for writing that sells goes like this:

FEATURE + BENEFIT = BUY-IN

And the formula for writing that tells goes like this:

TOPIC + CONNECTING IDEA = BUY-IN

As stated earlier, bullet points have a certain headline-ability to them. They are meant to be clear, concise and compelling. The brevity makes it clear and concise and the benefit/connecting idea makes it compelling. Here are some examples from my Copywriting in Action Online projects:

  • Bergenias: Lush, bold and well-rounded.
  • Violas:  Sweet, fragrant and grounded.
  • Plectranthuses: Resilient, tall and well-formed.
  • Astrantias: Dainty, delicate and pastel coloured
  • Hellebores: Ornate, tough and flower powered.

The list above begins with the same part of speech (proper noun) and adds some benefit/connecting idea to complete the lines. The same goes for this rather mouth-watering list:

  • Vanilla Bean Missing You – Indulgently creamy and flagrantly rich 
  • I fell for Caramel – Scrumptious toffee balls rippling with salted caramel sauce
  • Dream Team Cookies ‘n Cream – Explosions of choc cookie chunks and vanilla  
  • Choc! Choc! Who’s there? – Seductive dark choc chips swathed in chocolate sauce. 
  • We’re Mint to Be – Refreshing mint exhilarated with choc chips and ripple. 
  • Pandan Pecan Party! – Amazing Asian with pecans and toffee balls.

The following list begins with a verb then adds a little benefit/connecting idea to bring the dead facts to life:

  • SOLVING PROBLEMS THAT MAY SEEM UNSOLVABLE
  • CREATING DESIGNS THAT STAND THE TEST OF TIME
  • BUILDING LANDMARKS THAT YOU CAN BE PROUD OF
  • VALUING LONG-TERM  RELATIONSHIPS

And now for a verb-powered tour de Singapore’s historic heart, Fort Canning:

  • Uncover hidden traces of 14th-century Singapore — a thriving, cosmopolitan port city known as Singapura (or Lion City) founded by a usurping Indonesian prince
  • Hear incredulous tales and legends about the extraordinary feats of mystical kings and princes as chronicled in the ancient Malay text, The Sejarah Melayu
  • Explore the WWII Battle Box bunker under Fort Canning and pass through Gothic gateways to wander amongst haunting headstones in the old Christian cemetery 
  • Learn how a cunning Englishman exploited a lingering royal succession dispute to establish an illegal British trading settlement at the mouth of the Singapore River
  • Tuck into delicious local fare such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Malay Nasi Campur and Eurasian Hot Curries inside the charming terrace shophouses of the Civic District  

As you can see, it doesn’t matter how long the bullet-points are. It’s the parallel pattern and symmetry that delivers the promise with the speed and force of a ten-pin bowling ball.

Your aim is to craft each bullet point as if it were going to be a headline. In fact, you will find that some of your bullet lists can be repurposed as sub-heads. Here the bullet list we started with now as sub-heads:

Add brilliance with Bergenia: Lush, bold and well-rounded.

Lighten it up with Viola:  Sweet, fragrant and grounded.

Brighten the day with Plectranthus: Resilient, tall and well-formed.

Radiate starlight with Astrantia: Dainty, delicate and pastel coloured

Illuminate the dark with Hellebores: Ornate, tough and flower powered.

A clear, concise and compelling sentence is the mark of a good writer. And writing bullet points well is a sure way of honing your writing skills. Done well, it’s going to be the fastest way to your reader’s head, heart and pocket. 

Meanwhile, my online copywriting course’s latest timetable is up and running and ready to take your booking now

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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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