Oh, those magical bullet points. What would blog posts, sales letters, and bad PowerPoint presentations be without them?
- Bullet points are so common because readers like them.
- But typical bullet points are kinda lame … kinda like this one.
- So let’s start making our bullet points downright fascinating.
Bullet point basics
Before we get to the graduate level, we’ve got to nail the basics.
So, here are the five cardinal rules for general bullet points that convey your points clearly:
- Express a clear benefit and promise. That’s right; they’re mini-headlines. They encourage the scanning reader to go into the real meat of your content or go forward with your call to action.
- 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.
- 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.
- Practice parallelism. Keep your bullet groups thematically related, begin each bullet with the same part of speech and maintain the same grammatical form.
- Remember that bullets (like headlines) are not necessarily sentences. If you want to write complete sentences, stick with a paragraph or a numbered list.
Using “fascinations” to captivate readers
Are you curious about my use of the word “fascinations” in the subhead above?
Curiosity is a very powerful force.
It’s one of those things that makes us human, and one of those things we’ll never shake.
We simply want enticing things we can’t have or don’t yet understand.
And that’s exactly what drives people to take action.
A fascination refers to a copywriting technique where you create “special” bullet points so compelling and so benefit-driven that the reader simply cannot help but discover the answer.
It’s a great technique for:
- Drawing people back into the copy they skimmed
- Prompting the download of a free report
- Causing the click of a link
- Driving subscriptions to your blog
- Triggering the purchase of your product
- Initiating a new client relationship
The key to a fascination is dangling the benefit out there in a teasing manner, without actually giving away what it is.
One of the undisputed kings of fascinations is Bottom Line, a subscription periodical that promises insider information that makes your life easier.
The company launched itself many years ago with a sales piece that was essentially nothing but incredibly compelling bullet points.
Here are some samples from that original ad:
- Why some patients are given favored status in hospitals … almost preferred treatment. This little-known information could save your life.
- How to learn about medical discoveries before your doctor.
- How and when blood pressure can fool you … and drinking alcohol without hangovers.
- The two famous cold remedies that, taken together, can give you ulcers.
- A simple way to prevent Montezuma’s Revenge.
Bullet points are sometimes maligned, when people don’t know how to write them in an effective way.
Put a little more time and effort into making yours fascinating (or, at minimum, crystal clear and beneficial), and you’ll see your response increase.
Reader Comments (28)
Lyman Reed says
How did you do that? You DID make them fascinating! 🙂
I’ve read a ton of material on how important lists are to articles and copywriting, but in my ultimate wisdom I never believed it (and then I wonder why my readership is so low…). Thanks for taking the time to point out just how important organization really is.
Love the post!
If you can believe it, I earned a trackback once based on having the “best use of bold and bullet points” in a group writing project at ProBlogger. I kinda snickered at it at the time, but apparently there’s some good to it.
Might not have known it without the reinforcement here. Thanks, Brian!
Robert Bruce says
You are truly brilliant.
Thanks for this article, I wondered why my bullet list never did anything. Yet I changed two lines in the copy to include imagry and THAT did something…but not enough to my satisfaction. Oh my, you’re brilliant! I’m guessing you wrote:
**If you want to write complete sentences, stick with a paragraph. **
twice on purpose. Point taken and will make those changes; I’m betting it’ll mean more sales for this particular product.
Just as an aside note, shouldn’t this article be under a heading named “Where your copy went wrong?” 🙂
Michael Stelzner says
Brian – You never stop amazing me with your quality posts. Where do you find the inspiration?? – Mike
Is the method that Bottom Line used known as the Zeigarnik Effect ?
Can we get a whole Bulletorial on that method ?
Can a brother get a little bullet love here ?
Serendipitous. I’m reading this just minutes after I wrote this piece:
during which I contemplated whether to use ol’s or ul’s. Any advice on when to use ordered lists and when to use unordered lists? Seems you kind of mixed the 2, other than prefacing the first one with “5 cardinal rules…” Is that the distinction?
Note to self, use bullet points. Thanks again for wonderful advice! 🙂
>>I’m guessing you wrote:
**If you want to write complete sentences, stick with a paragraph. **
twice on purpose.
No, actually that was a formatting screw up. I guess I should have said it was intentionally designed to increase concentration, huh? 🙂
Markus, yep, I like mixing numbers and bullets to differentiate sections, and it’s usually determined by whether it makes sense to use a numbered list (rules, ways, steps, etc.) in a certain context.
“No, actually that was a formatting screw up. I guess I should have said it was intentionally designed to increase concentration, huh? ”
If it works – own it.
I’ve been trying for years to convince the big guy that bullets ought to be more than just a list of features. Think if I print this out and hand it to him he’ll believe me?
Sandra, well, since benefits sell and features only provide back-up to a buying decision that’s already been subconsciously made, I would say yes. 🙂
Wow! Great list. Working in email marketing, I often tell people to use bullets in email for the great scanability factor – however, I never thought that people may need help writing bullets. This is a keeper.
Which do you think is better – blind bullets or hard facts ?
Blind bullets, bieing like the Bottom Line method and hard facts being almost white paperish.
>>Which do you think is better – blind bullets or hard facts?
Depends on what you are selling.
Information products require really good blind bullets. Hard goods and other products require beneficial uses, followed by the data that backs those benefits up.
Glenn (Customer Service Experience)Ross says
Okay, since I’m here to learn, I’ll ask: What’s a “blind bullet?” Then, please define “hard fact.” Feel free to make it a post if it doesn’t fit here.
Not to hijack Brian’s post, but a blind bullet is the kind shown above as the style Bottom Line uses.
They are bullets that leave you hanging, they ask but don’t tell…
Hard facts are just that, simply using facts and data that support your premise.
marti garaughty says
Another great lesson/post Brian. Years ago I learned a lot from Gary Halbert when he was still putting out his paper newsletter(he seems to have gone off the deep end in the past few years) but I like what I’m reading here, I’m glad I stumbled across your site.
EXCELLENT – bullet point use in an article about using bullet points! I have been reading this blog for some time now and it never ceases to amaze me the wealth of knowledge I gain from each post!!! Keep up the good work!!!!
Mark Goodyear says
This reminds me of the 6 words stories in the current issue of Wired. There’s another way to bring power into bullets–add narrative, character, conflict and setting.
It wouldn’t be appropriate every time, of course. But can you imagine a best practices bullet list of anecdotes? That would be cool.
Edward Allengton says
Awesome post Brian.
One of the best writers of powerful headlines is Dr. Mercola. I don’t care for his advise much but his headlines pack a punch.
There are also tools that can analyze and grade your headlines based on thouands of factors.
Headlines is what grabs the readers and carries them to the next paragraph and it should be the one area where you bring in all your weapons!
Tanya Perido says
Hmmmm. I’m glad James Brausch tipped me off about this site. I’m a great fan of his, so I blindly do whatever he says! 🙂
But really, this is foundational stuff. And that’s what I need right now. The more solid facts I can get my hands on in starting my online business the better. And there’s too many people out there who are writing a bunch of fluff in hopes of making sales. I don’t buy from fluffers. Their products are immediately suspect.
BTW, I like the word fascinations. Is this your own made-up term? Or is it something that’s actually in use out there? I looked it up on Glyphius (my Brausch software) and saw it scores at a very pleasant 88. So I think I’ll be using the term myself!
I’ve always meant to go back and look over my bullets in previous posts, but now this has just given me a kick in the butt to go do that right now.
It’s amazing how effective bullets can change the results of the marketing purpose of any page, whether its a blog post or a sales page.
Hopefully after reading this post, I’ll see more positive results when I make some changes.
Thanks for the read!
Ann Handley says
As a huge fan of bullets, I’m glad to see a post that gives them a little respect…! Nice.
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