How to write better bullet lists

Presented live on Tuesday, Sept 12, 2017

Register for our live tutorials

A bullet list isn’t actually supposed to be a list of features, benefits or outcomes. But a heavy reliance on “scannable copy” has made many a marketer opt for bullets… forgetting all the while that you can do so much more with a bullet than simply list some stuff. In this Tutorial Tuesday, Joanna Wiebe introduces you to “fascinations,” aka the end of the boring bullet list.


Joanna is writing in Airstory, the writing software for research-based projects. 


Joanna Wiebe:                     Hello. Good morning everybody. Good afternoon, depending on where you are. Good evening, depending on where you are. Joanna here from Copy Hackers and Airstory. Sarah will be joining me shortly. We are doing today’s tutorial Tuesday. Hopefully my connection is good. The weather is getting kind of freaky out there. Some big storm rolling in, but not, of course, anything to complain about here. Yeah, Sarah just joined. Hey Todd. Hey others who are chatting over. Cool.

Okay, so today we’re going to be talking about fascinations. Before we get into that, some really quick housekeeping. As usual, please use chat to say hello. Most of the time it defaults to all panelists, if you want to say hi to everybody, please choose everyone, otherwise, we’re just happy to hear you say hi to us, that’s awesome. If you want a question answered today, if I’m unclear about something or you just have a specific question that hasn’t been answered, go ahead and use the Q&A area and I will look at those at the end of this tutorial. 20 minutes scheduled, 20 minutes on the clock, so we’re gonna work toward that.

The one thing, today, this week, Copy Hackers is doing something to raise money for Hurricane Harvey and Irma, so if you … Sarah’s gonna chat out a Bitly link. Essentially it’s … There’s an email going out about it, so if you’re already getting emails from us at Copy Hackers, for things other than the tutorials, then you’re likely to get this anyway, if you haven’t already. We’ve brought our e-books out of the vault. It’s been a couple years since we’ve sold them. They’re back. They used to sell for $120 as a bundle. We listed them for $39. All proceeds going to hurricane relief efforts. We’ll be donating to Unicef this Saturday, god willing. That’s the plan at least, so Sarah will chat that link out.

Thanks to those who are saying they love the books. That’s awesome. It’ll take you straight to SamCart page. It doesn’t have a lot of detail on it. That’s because we’re really sending people from the email that we have to that page. I wanted to mention it today anyway since you guys are here and it is a very good thing hopefully. We’re looking to raise about 5K. We’ve already done some cool stuff. We just sent an email this morning and we’re getting a lot of people taking us up on this, so I can’t wait to share the email on Saturday, hopefully at least where we can say what the total number was. However we can help out, we are trying to, given that we are very far away from a place where we can volunteer directly.

Okay, so today we’re talking about fascinations. What are fascinations? They’re cool. They’re actually a really cool thing. The word is kind of weird, fascinations, why not fascinators? I don’t know. I don’t know, but whatever, it’s called fascinations, and a fascination is really a better bullet point. If you use bullet lists, and I know a lot of us do, and I am definitely one of them. When you are writing copy for scanning eyes, you tend to want to use bullets, especially for long feature lists, for lots of data that you might be putting out on a page or something like that, but buy in large, it’s listed out features, parts of features, benefits, outcomes, things like that. Those sorts of things.

When we’re writing bullets, we often don’t think about doing anything more than making them a bullet point. What’s a bullet point? We put those on power point slides and things like that at work, and so I think it’s easy to think, oh the point of a bullet is just to express a piece of information in a quick, short way. Okay, good. That’s step one with a bullet. Today we’re gonna talk about how to take that quick expression of a single piece of information, and make it more interesting.

Our goal as conversion copywriters, even if you don’t identify as a conversion copywriter, but if you review copy, if you might want to be a copywriter at some point, or if you’re involved in any way, in writing or work for business, customer facing language in particular, if that’s part of what you do in any way, the more you can make every word on the page work, the better, obviously, especially given that there is a lot of pressure to get pages as short as possible. It doesn’t mean I believe that, but I am very aware that a lot of businesses and C levels, when you’re sitting around the board room table reviewing copy, you tend to get pressure to make your copy shorter. If you’re relying on bullets, if you have to get down to a place where your bullet list has to do a lot of persuasive work, then let’s make it do that work and not just be a list of information.

Okay, so I am going to share my screen right now. One moment while I do that. Oh and by the way, yes, this is recording. Okay, cool, so you should see my screen. Duh-dun-duh. Let me just try to increase the size of this. Okay cool, so this is an email that I sent out last week. To everybody who attended last week’s tutorial Tuesday or registered for it, you would have got an email afterward that had this exact copy on it. What’s important here is this bullet list. This was the final version of the bullet list. This is a pretty straightforward, palatable for the average audience sort of approach to fascinations, where the goal is to tease. That’s what we’re here to do with the bullet lists that we’re going to write from this point on in our lives, we’re not, for customer facing messaging at least, not necessarily when you’re presenting to your C level or to the CEO, but our goal is to tease, not to give. We don’t want to jump to the TLDR.

We don’t want to just put down facts on the page, that’s not the point. That’s not gonna be persuasive copy. We want to tease people. We want to pull them into something where we get our reader interested, get their mind kind of going, we’re really opening a lot of curiosity gaps here, so if you’re a fan of using the open loop, which I am, if you like curiosity gaps, then you’ll love using fascinations. This is the final version, what I just had in there, that’s the final version of the fascinations list, but I want to walk you through how to get to this point, okay? I think I’ll start … I didn’t know which way I wanted to start when I was practicing this before, but I think I’m gonna start with this. These are just the points to keep in mind when you are optimizing a bullet list, to fill it with fascinations [inaudible 00:07:11] instead of boring bullets.

Again, your goal is to tease, not to give, when we are writing a fascination list, you start by just writing out the facts. Just put down the bullet list as you already would. Just throw it down as draft one, okay? You don’t have to edit as you go, and you shouldn’t edit as you go. You should start by writing it down, just dumping out your bullet list, just go, go, go, go, go with the features, the benefits, whatever those things are that you’re listing. It could be chapters in a book that you’re listing. It could be anything that you’re putting in a list. Just write it the way you always would, and then you come in and, as we say, you edit in the awesome. You go in and you replace those facts with any of these five things, or all of these five things.

A single bullet will be replaced by anything beginning with who, what, when, where, why, or how. Okay? I’m gonna show you that, but this is like the screenshot. This is the thing to pay attention to, so you’ll replace those bullets. You’ll rewrite it and begin the sentence with who, what, when, where, why, or how. The one or the only, that could be either or. You could have that one blank appear in the list, the only blank could appear in that same list. The actual, the exact, those are good starting phrases for your fascination. Having words like will and must, that’s a great thing to keep in mind. I’m gonna show you these, but keep this list handy when you are rewriting your bullets.

An un-word is a copywriters friend. Unexpected, unpopular, unknown, things like that. People get their backs up when they see the word secret on the page, so you have to use secret really sparingly. Un-words still tend to fly pretty well, so again, unexpected, unknown, you can go through and list off all your own uns, but those are kind of the core places to start when you’re replacing those facts. Taking your existing bullet list and rewriting every bullet with one of these in mind at the start of a bullet, outside of will, must, and uns, those will just appear inside the new bullet that you’re writing. Okay?

Okay, and I’m gonna show you this. I’m giving you the lesson before I’m showing you the example. Then you want to add in what we call finders, really for future pasting, and that means, as you’re going through, you’ll want to help people imagine themselves using the product or getting the benefit you’re talking about. This is really … This comes from back when … Uh-oh, I hope you’re not seeing this. You are, aren’t you? You might be seeing everything popping on my screen, so apologies to anybody who … I can’t actually stop that right now, from popping, sadly. Adding in those finders though, if you were selling video courses where you’d say modules, if you’re selling an event where you might say the speaker, what are the finders? The chapters, the time on the clock if you’re selling a video course, the locations, things like that.

When you’re gonna write a fascinating bullet point like, how to optimize the landing page for a business you haven’t even built yet. Okay, whatever, let’s pretend that’s a bullet point that you’re going to be working on, if you were to teach that in the course you’re selling for that, or in the e-book you’re selling, you would say where to find that piece of information. I’m gonna show you that. Just know that these finders are important. Then you’re gonna delete any double fascinations and you’re gonna optimize the order, so let me show you what that looks like right now.

Here again is the optimized final version of it, but we just start with a basic list. For this, when I was saying … When I was going through and listing out the bullets here, step one being, just list the facts. Just make the bullet list. This was for people who had signed up, who had attended the tutorial, or who had not attended last week’s tutorial. The list was just telling them what was inside the tutorial, like what did we cover. If you do a post-webinar summary, you might have a bullet list of the four or five things that you covered. Cool. This is exactly what I was doing there, but I was giving people an option to also go into the video recording, because I’m trying to get them to say yes to watching the video recording.

I watched the video, I just went through and watched the video, and I took notes on exact things that were happening in the video. Like, you should email your copy to your client 10-20 minutes before a meeting with them. If I was taking notes on the video, these are the notes that I would take. Okay, I feel really bad about [inaudible 00:11:58]. You should email your copy to your client, that you always need to have and run a meeting to present your copy. The biggest part of our job as copywriters is controlling clients’ reactions to our copies, so really just going through and listing out everything that a person might learn. That’s all I’m doing. If you watch this video, that’s what you’ll see. That’s exactly what I’m doing. That’s what you should do to make your list.

One second. Then we go through and we start using this list. We start replacing those facts with everything I said here. All of this stuff already in [inaudible 00:12:37]. You’re gonna go through and apply that. You should email your copy to your client 10-20 minutes before a meeting with them, okay, we haven’t optimized that yet, but we’re just kind of going through and doing that, so I’m gonna skip over from the beginning part of it to version three where we can see that I’ve removed the facts. Again, we don’t want to give people the fact. We want to tease them so that they have to watch the video, in this case, or they have to buy the book, or they have to do whatever that thing is that you’re trying to get them to do. They have to upgrade to the next version of your product, whatever it could be, so we’re replacing facts with teasers.

Exactly, so exact, actual, things like that, exactly when, that’s one of the five Ws of course. It’s okay to email copy to your client. We went from, that you should email your copy to your client 10-20 minutes before a meeting with them, which is the fact, to exactly when it’s okay to email copy to your client. I don’t know the answer to that just by reading this bullet, but I might want to know the answer to that after reading this bullet. Okay, well when is it? I have to now go click and watch the video to get an answer for that. We’re opening the curiosity gap. Okay? You always need to have and run a meeting to present your copy, so yeah, that’s just still a fact. What the biggest part of our job as copywriters is, skip to, and then we’re putting in here these important places to go. These are the finders I was talking about.

As I’m reading this, the bullet list, this fascination list, if it interests me, if this point interests me, how to make sure you don’t get straggler feedback after the call, skip to 541. Okay, I might click through and skip to 541, what’s straggler feedback, have I experienced that, things like that. We’re just going through and we’re using exactly this list, all of these things to just rewrite our bullets. That’s it, make them more fascinating, take the facts out. Then, we want to get to the place where we delete the boring ones, cut it. It it’s not gonna be fascinating, just cut that crap and then reorder it, so we’re gonna end up at a really good place. I’m still going through and deleting here. I’m still kind of reordering things at this point in this draft, but … Oops, sorry. I just clicked the wrong button. My bad. Now you can see all my accounts. No you can’t. There’s nothing to.

Okay, so I’m gonna go back to document, and we can see the final version here where I’ve reordered things. The way that we want to optimize the order of the bullet list is to try to put the most interesting bullets at the top and at the bottom of the list. What’s gonna be really interesting for your reader? What you must put, there’s that word must again, and what, we’re beginning with one of the five Ws. What you must put on slide one, set the tone for the convo. Okay, interesting. That might be interesting to our reader. Why even the best presentation wont’ build trust without this, so we’re taking out the fact again, and we’re replacing it with, this is called an open suitcase. I won’t get into it, but we’re removing any noun. We’re leaving this open loop here by saying, without this. What is this? I have to skip to O811 to find out what this is.

Then we’re finishing off with the most interesting ones too. The actual deck I use to present to Laura Roder at Edgar. Okay, cool, so those are good bullets. Those are good things that I want to actually see. Then we’re going through and we’re kind of staggering the length of the fascinations. Now, I could do a lot better than this. I’d really like to delete this part in order to make this a shorter bullet, because you don’t want all your bullets to be long. You don’t want all your bullets to be short. You want to have different varying lengths. Just do this, it goes back to 18th century English lit. Honestly, this is where I first picked up this technique when I was in university studying Samuel Peaks and the way he would stagger sentence lengths. We can do the same thing. It makes things readable, it keeps your mind kind of whirring.

This is where we end up. We start with a list of facts, just a regular bullet list that you’re used to making. We go through, we take out facts. We replace them with the five W sentences like, the one, the only, the actual, the exact. We add in will and must into our bullets, and we use un words. Okay? You’re gonna add in finders where it’s possible, for future pacing, so if there is a place on the next page where they can find the thing you’re talking about, cool, that’s a finder, add it in in brackets. Delete the dull ones. Nobody cares about a boring bullet point. Get rid of it, and then optimize the order. You’re gonna sandwich the best, the boring stuff that’s gonna have the best bullets around it because sometimes that boring one you don’t want will end up there and then you’ll have to say it. You’re gonna want to vary lengths as well. Okay?

I’m gonna stop sharing now because I keep having popups, and I tried to turn them all off before I got on here, but you never now. I thought I closed that down and I didn’t, so now I’m getting popups. I know, Lance is like, “Ugh, oh great, what’s going on?” Okay cool, so that ends our … This is the joy of tutorial Tuesdays. It’s very organic. It’s actually me sharing my actual screen and sometimes you see things that are not normally shared in lives sessions. I know. People are like, “Use Do Not Disturb.” I know. This is life of Joanna, this is just what happens. Okay, cool. Thanks Brian. Okay, cool.

I have one question here. Marina asked, “Should you repeat the formulas or make sure it’s only one of the interesting things per fact per list?” Repeat them. You’re gonna thing they’re boring. You’re gonna think the formula is boring or people are going to recognize the formula and they’ll be like, “Wah-wah. I can’t believe they used the same one again and again.” It’s very unlikely that people will. If you’re writing them in a compelling way, people aren’t paying attention to the way you’re writing them. They’re drawn in to what you’re saying. It’s just like good design. Like good design where you shouldn’t notice it. People shouldn’t notice that you’re using these formulas because you’re writing them in a compelling way. As long as they’re not noticing, then we’re in good shape. Feel free to keep reusing those formulas. Okay?

Carlos … No worries, Marina. Carlos asked, “How many bullets are too many?” It’s like, this goes back to the, how long is a piece of string? It’s too many if it’s no longer doing the job of pulling people deeper into the list and making them want to say yes to the thing that you’re talking about. I mean, long form sales pages, there’s that one in one of the first Tutorial Tuesdays that I did, and you can still find it on Copy Hackers under tutorials, you can see the long form sales page one where we broke down a page that Ben Settle wrote and it was filled with bullets. It was list after list of fascinations. It just kept going with cross heads between and it just … More, more, more, more, but it was so compelling because these fascinations were really tapping into things that the ideal prospect was interested in. They were pulling you along. They were doing a great job of it. I wouldn’t worry necessarily, Carlos.

I think it’s a perfectly legit question, but I wouldn’t worry about how many bullets are too many. If it feels like you’re losing your reader, cut it. Stop the list. Or, can you optimize what you have already to make it more compelling and more engaging as a read. Can you really push further on the copy that you’re writing so that it doesn’t feel like it’s too many and you’re still drawing people along. Okay? Cool.

Todd says, “I often bullet the first portions of bullets to make copy even more readable. Do you do this?” Okay. For a bullet, yes. For a fascination, the thing that you want to bold is not the summary point or the data, the actual … Oftentimes when we’re bolding, we’re bolding for scanners, right? We’re like, “okay, so if an important fact that we wanted everybody to get is that they got 103% lift … Lets say, I’m just throwing an example out there because I don’t have one otherwise. One of my bullets is … If I’m trying to sell agency services for CRO, let’s say, one of my list points is, got 103% lift for a client in Georgia medicare. I don’t know. Let’s say that’s what it is. Okay, fine. What’s the part that you would bold? In most cases, we would default to bolding the point that we hope that they take away, which is the 103% lift.

You think, “Oh wow, they’re gonna see 103% lift and that’s gonna be great.” That’s us saying, “Don’t read my copy.” That’s us saying, “Just take this point,” and you’re forcing their brain to stitch together all the points that your copy should be doing. Instead of bolding that 103% lift part or the part that you hope they see, bold the stuff that makes them want to read the bullet. If it’s more about 103% lift for a company in medicare, is there a … That’s not a good fascination, by the way, so you’d want to push that one further. You want to bold the part that gets them to read the important part of that bullet. The unknown way that we got 103% lift, and so again, an un, unknown way that we got 103% lift, you’d want to bold the unknown way, not 103% lift. Does that make sense?

It’s hard without an example to show you right now. Don’t bold the first … Don’t bold the beginning just because you’re like, “Well, that’s what people will read.” Guess what? If they’re already reading it, you don’t have to optimize it. They’re already gonna read the beginning of the bullet points. They’re not gonna read the end of it. They’re not gonna read the middle of it. Bold the part that will make them read the whole bullet. Okay? Cool, cool, cool. Alright. I know it takes a lot of words for me to get to some points, because I need an example. Alright, cool. Then we are seeing. That’s it. That’s it for Q&A. No other questions coming in, so hopefully you are able to go forth and write better fascinations than ever before, better bullets.

I do think, like Neil just said, they’re easy to do. They should be very easy to do, okay? Rewrite those bullets, turn them into fascinations. Pull people through your copy, and then get them to say yes by the end of it. That’s our job, right? That’s all that we do. That is it for this week’s Tutorial Tuesday. Thanks everybody for showing up. Next week, I’m speaking at Business and Software on Tuesday, so I do not believe we’ll have a Tutorial Tuesday next week. If you’ll be in Boston, hope to see you there at Business and Software. Sarah will be there. Steven will, Lance will. If you’re in the area, come say hi to us. Come on over to Business and Software. It’s a great event. Other than that, we’ll see you the following Tuesday. Have a great week everybody. Thanks so much. Bye.