024 The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Bullet Points That Work

In this Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat world, who needs words, right? Well, we all do. But only if they are readable. Enter bullet points.

Why bullet points? Like it or not, they keep people reading your blog posts, pages, articles, and copy like nothing else …

In the online attention economy, studies show us that readers behave in very predictable ways.

They’ll read the headline, the first sentence, they’ll scan the page, particularly the left hand side of the page, looking at the sub headlines and slowing down at the bullets.

But they’ll fly by those bullets if you fail to craft them in a certain way …

In this roughly ten-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • The two-part essence of a great bullet point
  • The proper way to think about bullet points (this will keep you from wasting time)
  • The mistake amateur bullet writers make when it comes to teasing
  • If and when it’s okay to have a bullet longer than one sentence
  • A sublime example of bullet points that work

The Show Notes

The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Bullet Points That Work

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, a digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Demian Farnworth: Hey gang, this is Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media. And you are listening to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice.

And thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

Bullets. Bullets. Bullets. Bullets. Bullets. That’s what this episode is all about. Not the kind of bullets that can kill, mind you. Remember: I’m a lover. Not a fighter.

Well … never mind.

No. We are talking about the kind of bullets that stop scanners in their tracks. That draws their attention. Slows down those hot little synapses that are itching for more tweets, and six second videos, and just one more polka rain art print on Pinterest, please.

Words, right?

Who needs them in a Pinterest/Instagram/YouTube world.

We do. We need them so we can learn. And bullets, that formatting technique, is just one more trick in our toolbox along with headlines, and subheadlines and images, which we’ll talk more about in the next episode.

But first, let me remind you that this episode of Rough Draft is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker … our live conference we are hosting this May 13-15 with a star-studded cast of speakers bringing you some of the best ideas on content marketing and driving traffic and smart design, and conversion…

You can learn more about this event and the line up of speakers at rainmaker.fm/event. That’s rainmaker.fm/event.

Now, on to the show.

The Two-Part Essence of a Great Bullet Point

The essence of a great bullet is brevity plus promise. A long bullet would defeat the purpose. Keep it to one sentence. Less than ten words if you can. Give your reader within a glance a meaningful benefit.

In other words, think of a bullet as just another headline. Use the same tricks to writing bullets as you do writing headlines.

Plus, front load the bullet with high-powered emotional words. Tease, without giving the farm away to keep her reading.

The Proper Way to Think About Bullet Points (This Will Keep You From Wasting Time)

Here’s the deal. A damn good bullet is not only brief and loaded with a reader-oriented promise, but it’s also symmetrical. Meaning each bullet starts with a verb if that’s the pattern you’ve established, and you keep it that way. Just like you would with your subheadlines.

Or if it’s two sentences long, the first sentence is a fragment, and it’s bolded.

The second sentence expands on the thought introduced in the first. Maintain that pattern.

The Mistake Amateur Bullet Writers Make When It Comes to Teasing

Next, a good bullet is simple. The list is simple. It’s not a cluster of bullets, and sub bullets and sub sub bullets. You want to avoid that wreckage. One line, simple on the eye.

And keep in mind that a good bullet doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. Fragments are okay.

A Sublime Example of Bullet Points That Work

So the question becomes, when should you use a bullet list?

Bullets are effective for summary and teasing. For instance, on each blog post of an episode of Rough Draft you’ll see a list of bullets. Five or six benefit laden bullets that tell you what the show is about. That encourage you to listen.

Think of them as cliffhangers.

In addition, you can use bullets when you find yourself in the middle of an article creating a list. For example, you might be describing the 493 picnic foods you should avoid when your partner is in an extraordinary state of terror.

That would be an appropriate time to break out the bullet list.

If and When It’s Okay to Have a Bullet Longer Than One Sentence

Other appropriate times involve breaking complex, compound sentences into bullets. Or when you are citing data and proof to back up an argument. If you have three or more pieces of data. Use a bullet list. We call those “Authority bullets.”

Like I said earlier, treat your bullets as if it were a headline. Because in the online attention economy, studies show us that readers behave in very predictable ways. They’ll read the headline, the first sentence, they’ll scan the page, particularly the left hand side of the page, looking at the subheadlines and slowing down at the bullets.

Bullet lists are easy on the eye. They get the reader to stop, and pay attention. So that’s your opportunity to persuade them to stick around.

All these accumulated ways to convince your reader to give you her attention.

And all these pieces we’ve been talking about work together. Creating this accumulative effect on your potential reader that says, “Listen. You can trust me, this is good. You are going to regret it if you bail.”

And so in the next episode I’ll introduce you to yet another one of these standard on-page elements of capturing and keeping attention.

It’s called “How to write meaningful links that woo readers.”

Until next time. Take care.