Bite the Bullet

Ditch the dots, and bring freedom back to your writing.

 

I’ve sensed a great disturbance in the force, for we have encountered a new nemesis:

  • Bulleted
  • Lists
  • Of stuff
  • And things

Lots of us use bullets in our copywriting — I was essentially trained to use bullets in my first job out of college — so why do they annoy me so much? After a thorough analysis (and maybe a cookie or two), I answered my own question and learned how I’ve adapted my writing over the past several years to be virtually bullet-free.

Bullets are cop-outs. Yep, I said it.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but within the past 10 years, we’ve all been punched in the face with bullets in our marketing collateral — especially on websites. The trend became to increase graphics and media while decreasing the amount of copy. And suddenly bullets were used and abused as magical copy minimizers.

Very important problem with that though: bullets don’t necessarily save space or help break up text. In fact, they can make your text even more difficult to read when you have a bulleted list of ten items, and all of them are more than one line long.

If your bullet points are straight-up sentences, you should not be using bullets. Here’s an example (sorry, DMV, but you’re easy to pick on):

What purpose do those bullets serve? Is it possible to provide the same message without the bullets? (Hint: yep!) Let’s see one way to do it:

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Still eight lines of text, and the white space between paragraphs helps break up the text better than the bullets do.

Writers in marketing and communications often use copy to showcase the feature-benefit elements of a product or service. And guess what? You don’t have to use a bulleted list for that either.

If your website has a lengthy list of sentence-bullets, don’t panic. You’ve got it in you to rework the text. Start by looking for common elements, features and even wording in the list. Group the common items together into a paragraph, and use a bold or colorful header to call out the primary benefit of that group. Or even an icon. That way, your awesome benefit is called out in your header instead of at the end of a bullet point, drawing in your reader. Here’s an example:

That’s not to say bullets aren’t useful copywriting tools in other instances. I like them when I’m shopping online and want to immediately know dimensions, color options or available sizes. For example the features of the Kindle Paperwhite (which is on my wish list if you’re feeling generous), are in a short and simple bulleted list.

But if you can — if you dare (yes, dare!) — try biting the bullets. You may find it gives you more freedom with your copy, making you an even better writer than you already are.

Amy

Amy Sierlecki

Amy is a multi-talented writer and editor who can compose just about anything except for a short blurb about herself.

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