Your sixth-grade English teacher taught you how to construct a perfect paragraph.
But “in today’s world of speedy news, food, and pleasure,” people don’t have the patience to read your carefully crafted prose, writes Mike Blankenship, founder of MB Content.
“You’re competing. . . with everything online — cat videos, Kardashian gossip, Game of Thrones, etc. With all the available alternatives, your readers are easily distracted.”
That’s why you need to skip the purple prose and use a handy little typography tool that speeds information to your audience and holds people’s attention.
What’s this terrific tool? The brilliant bullet. Of course you know that a bullet is a typographical symbol (usually a little dot, but other shapes are possible) to organize items in a list.
Rather than having your writing go on and on, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, gray page after gray page, you can use bullets and their cousins–checkmarks and numbered lists–to break things up.
Whether used as a sidebar (“here are the five things you need to know about the company’s new initiative”), or as part of the main text, bullets are a wonderful way to:
- Set off important information from the rest of the text
- Underscore key points
- Break up long narrative text
- Make it easier to skim or scan
- Organize content when there’s a list (1, 2, 3) or a process (“first you do this, then you do that. . .”
Are there rules about how to use bullets? Well, guidelines, anyway. Bullets should:
- Be parallel and symmetrical, according to Brian Clark writing on Copyblogger. Make the content under bullets about the same length; “keep your bullet groups thematically related, begin each bullet with the same part of speech, and maintain the same grammatical form.”
- Express a clear benefit and promise to the reader. Bullets should be mini-headlines, advises Clark. “They encourage the scanning reader to go back into the real meat of your content, or go forward with your call to action.”
- Not be overused. We’ve all had the experience of trying to read a document that contains one bulleted list after another. If everything is a list, it all blurs together and audience members’ brains begin to fry.
The objective of using bullets is to make your communication easy to navigate, giving your audience control of the experience. The result? People stay with your communication and understand what you’re trying to convey.