Learning how to write bullet points…it’s one of the most effective ways to get any idea across to your reader.
They help a writer articulate a particular—sometimes even complicated—concept in a clear, concise, compelling manner.
But bullets aren’t meant to “dumb-down a concept. Instead, they are designed to break up complex ideas into easily-digestible chunks.
In essence, they help the writer summarize or highlight a specific big idea.
In most cases, this “summary” shouldn’t give it all away. It should only tell the reader enough to peak their curiosity or arouse their emotions.
These special types of “teaser” bullet points are typically referred to as fascinations. Fascinations usually emphasize strong benefits or compelling ideas that “lure” a reader into feeling like they want—even need—to know more.
Fascinations have a few basic goals. They are designed to:
- Draw a reader back into your message…
- Persuade a reader to take some sort of action…
- Build credibility to start or grow a relationship…
Therefore, these types of bullets “tease” or “engage” readers. Which means it’s more likely they’ll stick around long enough to reach the above goals.
But there’s an even more basic, underlying reason online marketers must learn…
How to write bullet points
You see, the main purpose for learning how to write bullet points is much simpler…
That’s right! To make it easier for a prospect to read and understand your message. So in the end, they choose to keep reading.
Previously, I discussed several ways to make content or copy easier to read.
Here, I wanted to expand on the concept of using lists—or bullet points—to help make your writing easier to consume. You see, readers are either in a hurry or inherently lazy.
By using bullets, you break down concepts into their simplest form. Making them easier to digest. Or you take longer blocks of text and break them down into easier-to-digest chunks.
You see, bullets have a unique way of pulling readers back into any message. Truth is, the majority of readers only scan content. And because bullets make powerful concepts easier to consume and digest—and stand out visually—they encourage readers to re-engage your message.
Said another way, bullets are an effective relationship-building tool.
Readers feel like joining in the conversation…other bloggers feel like sharing your content…and prospects find you more credible. All because you provided solutions that felt “easy” to access.
With that, here are some simple tips on…
How to write bullet points that tease, engage, and persuade
- Be consistent in your style. Look, not only should your sales letter…landing page…email…home page…blog post…or other writings convey a specific tone or style, but your bullets must do the same. The reason is clear. You don’t want your writing to look or sound confusing or cluttered. That’s one of the main reasons a person stops reading anything. Because it’s gotten too mentally difficult to read. So here are some watch-outs for maintaining clarity and consistency in your writing…If you start your first bullet with an action verb, the rest in that series should also use an action verb. If you start with a noun, stay consistent and start every bullet with a noun. Same for voice and verb tense. Use either all active or all passive voice…all present or all past tense. But do not switch between the two in a given series of bullets. This also applies to bullet length…bold-face type…capitalization…punctuation…underlining…and more. For example, if your first bullet takes up four typed lines, all bullets should take up four lines. Let’s say you have three sentences in a bullet and wish to bold-face the first one for emphasis. Then you should bold-face the first sentence in every bullet. Plus, for any list, either use all punctuated sentences or no punctuation at all. Typically, short or single sentence bullets need no punctuation (with one notable exception…see our last bullet here). And if you choose to deviate from these guidelines, the smaller the deviations are, the more likely they are to go unnoticed. And, the less likely they’ll cause visual or mental distraction from the idea you’re trying to make. Again, consistency is the key.
- Create each bullet as if it were a headline. You see, bullets are like mini-headlines or sub-headlines. They should pack almost the same punch as any headline would. Again, the reason is that you are trying to break down a powerful concept so that it can be easily consumed, digested, and understood by your reader. Now maybe a good time to revisit an earlier post I wrote on the top 5 characteristics of great headlines. Just remember, great headlines take lots of practice to perfect. But it’s worth it. Because the goal is to get readers to react to your message. Either by being pulled back into your message…by being engaged enough to continue reading…or by responding to your call-to-action.
- Don’t overdo it! For any given topic or series of bullets, don’t feel compelled to give the reader everything they need to know. Or everything you promised in the first line of the bullet. You see, if you give away everything, your reader will not have anything left to want. And, no reason to continue reading or act on your call-to-action. Nor should you list every single bullet that you could tease with on a given topic. In other words, the same rule applies here as it does for writing all great copy. Only write enough to get your point across. No more, no less. With bullet points, you are essentially “teasing” your reader to want more. Of course, I suggest always writing a minimum of four bullets for any series. But, it’s a rare occasion when I exceed eight bullets in a given series. Now, here is where consistency goes out the door. While a series of bullets should have similar line lengths, different series can and should vary the number of bullets they list. Alternating the length of subsequent lists of bullets serves to break up the look of your writing and add to the visual appeal…making it easier for the reader to consume.
- Do not repeat words in the ‘stem.’ The stem is the last word in the sentence introducing the list, right before the colon. For example, check out this bulleted list with its introductory ‘stem’…Studies on this natural extract show it:
- Provides quick energy and stamina boost
- Promotes normal cholesterol profiles
- It dissolves blood clots
- It reduces inflammation
- Neutralizes free radicals
In this example, two bullets repeat the word “it” that’s found in the stem. This is a mistake. The inconsistency makes it cumbersome to read and causes a distraction from the message.
Think of each bullet point as an individual sentence when combined with the stem. So read the stem with each bullet point separately. Each one should look and sound consistent with respect to grammar and punctuation.
- Vary the symbol used in bulleted lists. Any word processing software offers multiple options for symbols or numbers to present lists. Generally speaking, it doesn’t matter which symbols (or number format) you use. However, if the headline of your marketing piece refers to a numbered list (5 Steps to Better Gut Health) or your list suggests a ranking (Top 5 Steps to Better Gut Health), it’s common practice to use numbers—or even Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, and so on—to identify your bullets. Plus, numbered lists are typically longer, informative pieces meant to disseminate full concepts or complete information. Similar to what this article is doing. But in most marketing copy and many content pieces, bullet symbols are best. For example, colored checkmarks or arrowheads are used in lists where you want to boost the emphasis of certain items or concepts, particularly when they offer direct benefits to the reader. Just be careful not to get too fancy to a point where the symbols distract from the message your bullets are trying to convey. Said another way, let your text do the heavy lifting and vary bullet styles sparingly. In most cases, standard round or square bullet point symbols work best.
- End each bullet with an ellipsis. It’s a subtle difference. But I used to end my bullets with a period, an exclamation mark, or no punctuation at all. Then, I discovered that ellipses tend to signal mental continuity in a reader’s mind. So by ending bullets with ellipses, a reader’s natural reaction is to continue reading the next bullet, and the next, and then whatever follows the bullets. It’s an artificial way to help a reader stay engaged. You see, ellipses do one of two things. Either signal that there is a pause in communication or warn of an impending point that’s being made. Kind of a natural way to represent a conversation on paper or the screen. That’s why it’s so powerful. Expert marketers know that the more you can write as you talk, the easier it is to engage and persuade readers. Thus, you may have noticed more and more body copy incorporates this concept of using ellipses. Same applies for bullets. But of course, like any communicative tool, don’t overdo it. Balance is the key.
There you have it. Several simple, useful tips on how to write bullet points that tease, engage, and persuade.
Got some additional bullet point tricks you’ve used to make your copy more readable? Our readers would love to hear about them. Please share them with us in the comment section below.
About the author: Jerry Bures
Jerry Bures is a direct-response web copywriter and marketing consultant. Since 2010, he has helped natural health, self-help and business opportunity clients—as well as local small businesses—become more visible, credible and profitable online.