COPYWRITING IN ACTION INSIGHT #57
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:
- 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.