8 Quick Tips for Writing Bullet Points People Actually Want to Read

It’s Twitter’s world, we’re just living in it.

Blog posts, Tweets, 6-second videos, Google+, the Facebook Timeline, and tens of thousands of images pinned to digital boards are flying past us faster than we can read them.

Faster than we can even scan them, depending on the time of day.

What does this mean for writers trying to cut through it all? At least two things that I can think of:

  1. You’d better know how to write a headline
  2. You’d better know how to write bullet points that grab (and keep) attention

We’re not telling you to keep your copy short. We’re telling you to keep your copy readable.

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

Let’s take a quick look at how to get this done, and get it done well:

The basics of writing bullet points that work

The essence of a great bullet is brevity + promise.

Brevity has been a hallmark of good writing since writing began, but every one of us living in the Twitter era possesses an acute awareness of just how important brevity is right now.

Long, complex bullet points would defeat the purpose of writing bullets at all — to keep your reader moving through your copy.

Promise is the element that hooks your reader like a fish. You’re making a plain and legitimate claim that your product/idea/service will give them what they’ve been looking for.

Goes without saying (but of course I’m going to say it anyway), you absolutely must deliver on the promise you make. There are probably faster ways of ruining your credibility and career, but not giving your reader what you promised is definitely in the top three.

Brian Clark wrote the definitive “Bullet Points 101” post more than five years ago. Go ahead and read that through at your earliest convenience.

Seriously, here’s that link again — click it and read that post about 10 times.

And, since I’d rather straight up steal from Clark than try to outwrite him in this area, here’s his summary of what an effective bullet point is and does:

  1. A bullet expresses a clear benefit and promise to the reader. That’s right… they’re mini-headlines. Bullets encourage the scanning reader to go back into the real meat of your content, or go forward with your call to action.
  2. Keep your bullet points symmetrical if possible; meaning, one line each, two lines each, etc. It’s easier on the eyes and therefore easier on the reader.
  3. Avoid bullet clutter at all costs. Do not get into a detailed outline jumble of subtitles, bullets and sub-bullets. Bullets are designed for clarity, not confusion.
  4. Practice parallelism. Keep your bullet groups thematically related, begin each bullet with the same part of speech, and maintain the same grammatical form.
  5. Remember that bullets (like headlines) are not necessarily sentences. If you want to write complete sentences, stick with a paragraph or a numbered list.

Now that we’re standing on a firm foundation, let’s move into how to actually write these bullets …

8 ways to write bullet points that work

You may have seen writers complain about the proliferation of “listicles” in recent years.

The thing is, the elitists don’t know what they’re talking about. Again, in this fast, short, and constantly evolving digital world, she who makes sense first, wins.

And one of the best ways to make sense of an idea — especially online — is not to dumb it down, it’s to break it up into digestible chunks.

Bullet points can be a great way to do that — but don’t just rely on the stale, simplistic bullet point types you’re using now. Expand your range and add these to your copy tollbox:

  1. External Fascinations: These types of fascinating bullet points are usually found in sales copy. They create curiosity and work like headlines to prompt a purchase or other action.
  2. Internal Fascinations: Internal fascinations are pretty much identical to external, except they’re designed to persuade people to continue reading the post they’re already reading.
  3. Bullet Chunking: Extracting bullets out of compound sentences helps you drive home a point while also increasing the usability of your content.
  4. Authority Bullets: Authority bullets are used to recite the data and proof that support your argument. As with all persuasive writing, turn dry factual information into interesting reading any time you can.
  5. Cliffhanger Bullets: Cliffhanger bullets tease and foreshadow what’s coming up next or in the near future. You can also use cliffhanger bullets to lay the groundwork for an upcoming promotion, launch, or special content event.

    If you want to know more specifics about how to write those (including examples), check out this classic Copyblogger post on useful bullet point types.

    And — as a little bonus — Ben Settle expanded on Brian’s post with a few more bullet types of his own.

    Here’s a few of Ben’s favorite bullet point secrets:

    1. Give-Away Bullets: These are sort of like the lady who hands out cheese cubes at the grocery store. She gives people a little “taste” of food that keeps them alert and shopping — and many times they end up with the thing they tasted in the shopping cart.
    2. Expansion Bullets: These bullets break up the “sameness” of the page (when you have several pages of bullets), and they add more tease, demonstration and curiosity. Plus, they give a nice little “loop” effect to your ad that keeps sucking the reader back in.
    3. “Can’t Be Done” Bullets: Basically, this is where you say something that is almost unbelievable. Something 100% true, but that is so wacky and “out there” it makes you say, “How in the heck can you do that?”

    Congratulations, you now know more about bullet points than most working copywriters.

    And here’s the simplest shortcut to jump start you in the art of the bullet …

    A simple shortcut to writing bullet points that work

    Craft each bullet as if it were to serve as your your headline.

    The goal here is to achieve, uh … headlineability with each bullet.

    You won’t achieve perfection with each and every bullet you write, but if you stick to this principle generally, writing them gets much easier over time.

    And, more important, those beautiful little bulleted lines will keep your readers running down your page like water on a slide.

    Want even more?

    These quick copy tips are meant to get you started on (and thinking about) very specific copywriting principles and tactics.

    If you want the entire picture of the “Copyblogger Philosophy” — including strategic teaching on content marketing, email marketing, social media, and more — go ahead and grab our free Copywriting 101 ebook.

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    Comments

    1. Nice tips.
      Great bullet points make for compelling lists and to the point articles.

    2. Okay – fine – you got me! I actually learned something from this. AND, me, the notorious bullet point shooter-downer, I am actually convinced that bullet points might just work in my own website copy, IF I could learn to implement a few of these strategies.

      Now could I just make one teensy little suggestion? Could you make your links open in a new window? I’d like to read the articles you suggest – later. Thank you!

    3. Great post! You kept your promise and taught me something that was factual, gave evidence to support your claim and overdelivered on your promise to deliver great content by providing several more links to other resources supporting the post. Awesome!…but you knew that.

    4. Nice post, Jeff.
      Hey, I just posted a post to my own post.
      Dammit. I hate these foggy early mornings. What? It’s afternoon?

    5. I transcribe, by hand outstanding bullet points to index cards. I have a about 300, mostly harvested from high converting, long form sales letters from Halbert, Pagan, Carlson and the like. There is definitely a rhythm to writing good bullet points. I feel when it when I’m transcribing.

    6. THANK YOU! Great article and I really appreciate the detailed explanations and links to further information!

    7. Is it me or did anyone else find it odd that a post about bullet points contained no bullet points?
      Good article :)

    8. Didn’t realize there was so much to know about using bulleted posts. Each one like a headline – that’s a great point I’ll have to practice.
      Awesome post. Great links – I’ll be coming back to this one over and over.

    9. I admit it — I love bullet points & blockquotes. . . anything to make a blog post look more interesting.

    10. I love bullet points! There’s a good reason why you see them everywhere. They work! They work even better than storytelling does IMO. Thank you for a post with good, usable insights on them.

    11. Who would have thought writing great bullet points would be
      * So detailed
      * So nuanced, and
      * So powerful
      Thanks for a post that is going to my evernote file:)

    12. I’m so glad I came across this article. I never know what to write when I’m on Twitter or Facebook lol This article makes it seem so easy. All I need to do is remember to write a great heading, and use bullet points. Couldn’t be anymore simple, thanks so much :)

    13. Hi Robert,

      Super helpful post.

      I feel the focus on benefits is uber critical. Some bullet into features. Nope. You think in terms of benefits, not features. Focus on points which move people emotionally, to want to learn more, continue reading the post and take your call to action. Enter benefits.

      The can’t be done bullets vibe strongly with me. Any point which makes people think is a powerful point, any point which is a head scratcher. It’s like an instant hook, pulling readers in to learn more, dig more.

      Thanks for sharing your insight Robert.

      Ryan

    14. I know bullet points are great…I’ve always known that. But the proliferation of posts which are nothing but bullet points can be really exhausting. So I’ve tried to stay off that. But with this post, I think I will actually try it now. What I got from this is that it’s actually possible to write a post of bullet points that teaches and informs. Thanks for writing this.

      • I agree, Sharon. Bullet points are like salt: they should be used sparingly, and only when needed. They’re great for quickly explaining certain things, and break up a long page of text nicely; but we shouldn’t forget about things like headings or even simple paragraph breaks — both of which Robert’s article uses well.

        Certainly some great tips here. Thanks for sharing them, Robert!

    15. I love bullet points. They’re like a cherry on a sundae. The sweetest part of the entire package.

      Favorite part: ‘she who makes sense first, wins” I knew women always made the most sense ;)

    16. When you are writing an article or a sales page for your website you have to be able to emphasize the points of your article the best way you can so that people understand what you’re trying to say. You bullet points are going to describe your material to the letter. It is going to tell people what you have to offer them and how are you going to help them. Some people are better at this then others, but it is an acquired skill that anyone can learn if you are willing to put in a little work to get good at it. Being able to write good bullet points will assist you in many ways if you plan on marketing online or even just being a good writer period.

    17. Bullet points interspersed with paraghraphs works for me. Write a paragraph first, break into another one, then another one and so on. When you feel like you are about to lose the reader, include a few bullet points. That ought to hit the spot, to be sure. The key is to find the right balance. Balanced writing means that it works for you and your readers or target audience. Too few bullet points can be just as bad as including too many bullet points. Hope this makes sense.
      I appreciate the fact that you contributed this wonderful guest post on this fab blog. Please keep up the good work. Cheerio.

    18. • Lots
      • of
      • great
      • info
      • here!

    19. Justin Amendola :

      Thanks for the shot of inspiration and the humiliating realization that I violate just about every tenet in your post on a regular basis. Cheers.

    20. Excellent post. A day before I was just arguing with my friend about bullet points ( imagine that :) ) and this article made my day )

    21. Awesome and so right :)

    22. By all means make sure it is content and information which no one will have ever read before and make sure that they will want to have a good read….

    23. That makes me think of how many words you actually use when writing bullet points and also what’s the tone of your blog posts. Are your bullet points and posts filled with the word: “I” and it’s all about you?
      It’s not about you. It’s all about them. To have really effective engagement in your bullet points you have to earn their attention. To do this, you need to talk about them. To have your bullet points truly engage you need to change your “I-You ratio.” You start with the word “You,” and then use it a dozen more times then you use the word “I.” And that will help your engagement and getting the readers interest. That will help you to become more relevant and read.

      What are you going to do for them? What have you got to offer them? This isn’t about manipulation. It’s about being genuine. You need to actually serve the people with whom you are in conversation. If you want them to focus their attention on your words in your bullet points and blog posts, you must genuinely show your intention to meet their needs like Bruce suggests.