15 essential bullet points about writing bullet points

Fifteen essential bullet points about writing bullet points.

Bullet points make your writing simpler, more readable and more useable.

Here are the fifteen best ways to use bullet points effectively:

  • Give them a parallel form. Your bullet points should all be constructed with a similar structure. See my bullet points in this article? They all start with a short, bold sentence that begins with a verb. Decide on what form you are going to use for a set of bullet points, then stick with it.
  • Make them all a similar length. All the bullet points in a list should be approximately the same length. So don’t have some that are just five words, and some that are a whole paragraph. Be consistent. This helps to avoid jarring your reader into giving up on your article.
  • Keep them two lines or under. Most bullet points should be only one or two lines long. Readers will appreciate that. Yes, I know, I’m breaking that rule in this article. So don’t follow any rules slavishly. Know what you are trying to accomplish, then use rules as a guideline.
  • Use powerful language. What makes your language powerful? Simple words. And action words—that is, verbs. Too many adjectives will muck things up. Say what you mean in the simplest, clearest way possible. Then move on.
  • Be definitive. There’s always more to learn. But be definite about what you know and believe right now. People are relying on you for your expertise, to make their lives and their work better. So make each bullet point authoritative. I’m definitely sure you should do this.
  • Consider how they look as well as how they read. Bullet points should look inviting. Once your list is complete, sit back and take a good look. Does it draw you in, or repel you? Consider shortening your bullets, adding bold text, paring down your list, or doing other things to make your bullet points look better.
  • Provide valuable info. Approach your bullet points with a genuine interest in helping. What are your readers’ needs? What are their problems? What’s the absolute best piece of advice or information that you can give them? See if you can write a bullet point that’s the most valuable thing someone will read all day.
  • Think of what your reader needs. Writing gets so much easier when you carefully think about the person you are writing for. So consider that person, and what she needs. If you do this, your list of bullet points will often erupt almost spontaneously.
  • Remember—you’re trying to simplify. Bullet points are about making things simpler: Simpler to read, to understand, to remember, and to apply. As you write your bullet points, keep asking yourself: Can I state this any simpler? Can I provide any other information that will help simplify my reader’s life?
  • Read them out loud. I know you’re going to try to skip this one. But once you do it a few times, you will swear by it. Read your bullet points (and everything you write) out loud. Listen for anything that sounds funny. Then fix it up, and read it out loud again. It will make everything you write so much better.
  • Stay focused. What are you trying to do with your bullets? List benefits? Create intrigue about something you’re selling? Provide a checklist? Give the steps for completing a project? Make sure every bullet point is working toward achieving that goal.
  • Study good bullet points. How do you know when you’ve encountered good bullet points? You’ll find yourself entranced by them. When bullet points draw you in—so you read every one, or even take action based on what they say—save those bullet points so you can use them as a model for your own.
  • Pay attention to bad bullet points. If you lose interest in a list of bullet points halfway through reading them, ask yourself “Why did that happen?” Did they break one of these rules? Were they too long, or too boring? Figure it out, and it will make your own bullet points better.
  • Make each bullet point a little reward. Each of your bullet points should make your reader glad he read it. Which, in turn, will make him want to read the next one, too. So reward  your reader, both with the information you convey and the way you convey it.
  • Stay on the lookout for bullet point opportunities. People love bullet points. So as you review the things you write, stay watchful for sections that could easily be turned into bulleted lists. It’s one of the most powerful ways to ensure that what you write actually gets read.

What’s your best advice on writing bullet points? Leave a comment below.

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