There are countless reasons why you’ll want to learn how to write bullet points.
Blog posts, tweets, 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 with attention grabbing techniques? At least two things that I can think of:
- You’d better know how to write magnetic headlines.
- 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.
What are bullet points?
Bullet points are used to list out items in your content.
They help you effectively communicate your message because they capture the attention of readers who prefer to scan your content. Think about it … scanners love bullet points, right?
A bulleted list can also break up long blocks of text, and the intriguing phrases you use in your bullet points are opportunities to turn scanners into readers.
Like it or not, they keep people engaged with 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 everyone currently 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 10 years ago.
And, since I’d rather straight-up steal from Clark than try to outwrite him in this area, here’s his five-part summary of when to use bullet points, as well as what an effective bullet point is and does.
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.
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.
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.
Punctuation in bulleted lists
Since the text that comes after a bullet point shouldn’t look like a paragraph, you might be wondering about how to handle punctuation in bulleted lists.
It depends on the type of bullets that you write, but the key is to keep your punctuation consistent. Your bullet points should more or less be the same style and length.
Do you capitalize bullet points?
You can capitalize the first word that follows a bullet point in your content.
However, if each of your bullet points is only one word, you could keep the letters all lowercase.
Again, whichever style you choose, just make sure you’re consistent throughout your text.
Should bullet points have periods?
If your bullet points end up being short sentences, you’ll want to add periods after each one. In this case, you see why you’d capitalize the first word after a bullet point.
If the bullet points are just short phrases or incomplete sentences, they don’t need periods.
Now that we’re standing on a firm foundation, let’s move into how to actually write these bullets.
8 examples of 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 toolbox.
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.
And — as a little bonus about how to write bullet points — Ben Settle expanded on Brian’s post with a few more examples of his own.
Here’s a few of Ben’s favorite bullet point secrets:
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. “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 how to write bullet points than most working copywriters.
And here’s the simplest shortcut to jump start you in the art of the bullet …
Try this simple shortcut for 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 importantly, those beautiful little bulleted lines will keep your readers running down your page like water on a slide.