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How to Use Bullet Points, with Bullet Points as a Guide

I know “how to” posts are all the rage amongst blog writers and readers. But sometimes the words to write a “how to” guide just fail me. A stream of contrary thoughts run through my mind, telling me that I’m:

  • teaching grannies to suck eggs
  • turning out a formula for the sake of it
  • only writing because I said that I would
  • not going to add to what other experts have written
  • getting too far from my focus - you the writer, not the writing tools

At the same time I wanted to write something about bullet points and clarity because they help us to:

  • break up our text
  • signpost our words
  • emphasise strong verbs

And I wanted to highlight some of the things we need to think about in using them, things like:

  • leading with those strong verbs
  • comparing like with like
  • keeping your point to one line
  • using the same parts of speech
  • working with three points, or five

And I knew I had to say something about the risks of over-use, because too many bullet points:

  • create a bitty look to the page (see what I mean?)
  • sound staccato after a while (hear what I’m saying?)
  • risk breaking rapport with your readers (although I hope not)

But rather than working through that stream of consciousness I decided it would be easier to drop the idea of a “how to” post and see you what can teach me instead. So…

  • what’s the most useful tip you’ve learned about using bullet points?
  • when do you like to play them in - or edit them out?
  • what are your biggest bugbears about the way they get used?

Share your comments in the box below - and you might just talk me into a compilation post of the best tips. Meantime if you’re looking for some more serious “how to” guides on using bullet points I’d recommend:

Little known ways to write fascinating bullet points (Brian Clark at Copyblogger)

Do you make these mistakes when you write? (Point 5 is on parallelism and bullet points) (Brian Clark again)

Best practices for bullet points (Lynn Gaertner-Johnston at Business Writing)

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  1. Brad Shorr says:

    For sales communication, I love bullet points because they force me to be disciplined in my thinking. Bullet points are enormously effective for explaining product/service benefits to a customer. But to make bullet points work, you have to clearly think out and distinguish each particular benefit, and then express each one in the fewest possible words. It can be a laborious process, but the end result is a summary that sticks in the customer’s mind and yours!

  2. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Brad, thanks for that.

    It confirms what I was thinking - that the writing tools won’t help you if don’t still do the work of getting clear what you’re trying to say, and boiling it down to the smallest number of words.


  3. [...] Contributed by Brad Shorr (Word Sell Inc) [...]