Cut Your Word Count With Pithy Lists

Struggling to compress a four-page document into one page or less? Read on to discover how bulleted lists help you become an aggressive self editor and keep your reader(s) hooked.

Why Lists Work

A bulleted list might seem innocent, but this design technique becomes immensely satisfying when boiling a message down to its bones. Lists work because we repeat fewer words and ruthlessly remove any extraneous words from each item. In applying lists to documents, or even emails, your grateful reader(s) can skim your message—especially from their phone.

What Tips Work Best

To help your reader quickly skim the list (the writer’s core goal) consider these tips:

  • Maintain consistent grammar and punctuation. (Note: You need minimal punctuation with lists)
  • Cap each item within 1-2 lines
  • Cap each list at around five bullets
  • Set up each list with an outline sentence
  • Make each list item 100% relevant to the outline sentence. Create new paragraphs—and lists—for new ideas

How Lists Work—A Quick Example

For practice, let’s apply a bulleted list to this message:

The deadline to apply for for next summer’s exchange group to Japan is fast approaching.

The XYZ Sister City Program invites local teens to come hear about how they can be part of the group, and spend three weeks living with a host family and traveling throughout Japan. Students and parents can attend the information meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Adult Recreation Center, 1200 Civic Center Drive.

The information meeting will be followed by the regular monthly Sister City meeting at 7. Students and parents are welcome to stay for the meeting.

The deadline for applications for next summer’s exchange group is Jan. 18. High school students living in or attending schools in Fairfield are eligible to apply. For more information or the application, contact XYZ@gmail.com. (130 words)

A list (and bringing up core information) helps me trim 31 words:

The deadline to apply for next summer’s exchange group to Japan through the XYZ Sister City Program looms. The three-week exchange entails living with a host family and traveling throughout Japan. The following outlines all you need to know:

  • The application deadline for next summer’s exchange group: Jan. 18.
  • High school students living in (or attending schools) in Fairfield are eligible.
  • Teens and parents can attend an information meeting next Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Adult Recreation Center, 1200 Civic Center Drive.
  • A Sister City meeting follows at 7 p.m.

For more information or the application, contact XYZ@gmail.com (99 words)

For more blogs on brevity, click here.


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