Do you get my point?

How often have you shared information with somebody, then followed by asking this question? “Do you get my point?” What you’re asking is “Did you receive what I thought I sent?” Was I clear enough? And, ultimately, “did I just waste my time?”

I’m no expert in verbally making sure your communication connects. I have witnesses. But I can tell you how to do it in writing.

I have three helpers: brows, bullets, and ballroom dancing. But let’s start with a glass of fresh milk.

Got milk?

Have you visited a dairy farm? Let raw milk rest for a bit and what ends up on top? Cream.

I suggest you write the same way. If you have something important to say, let it rise to the top. Here’s why:

  • People are busy.
  • People are impatient.
  • More and more people just want to know what they need to know with a minimum of fuss.

Put it up front in plain sight. Now, let’s meet our helpers.

Brows

Reach above your eyes. Feel that fuzz?

Your eyebrows help people read your face for communication cues. If you’re scowling, you’re probably not happy. If your eyebrows are raised, you may be surprised. If they are missing, you may be dangerous in the kitchen.

In print, a heading is sometimes called an eyebrow. Here’s how they are used.

Using generated “lorem ipsum” text, we’ll create three paragraphs. (Example 1.)

Example 1.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aliquam mauris dolor, molestie sed diam non, auctor dignissim turpis. Nullam laoreet massa nec elit vestibulum, quis consectetur augue fermentum. In maximus justo commodo interdum venenatis. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum molestie lacus ut luctus maximus. Vivamus tincidunt felis quis ornare rutrum. Maecenas ac dui dui. Nunc vitae massa eu quam interdum ornare. Nunc augue massa, sollicitudin in purus eu, pellentesque maximus lorem. Mauris tristique ipsum a consequat vestibulum.

 Vivamus at scelerisque metus, nec luctus eros. Ut lectus mi, pharetra sagittis mauris interdum, vestibulum sollicitudin urna. Curabitur gravida mattis elit, id auctor sem aliquam ac. Sed maximus ultrices mauris, egestas cursus massa pulvinar ut. Ut semper eget lacus vel tincidunt. Curabitur non rutrum tortor, in sodales purus. Mauris at tellus in dui semper ultricies auctor id eros. Phasellus rutrum diam elit, sed placerat ex efficitur ac. Donec commodo nisl eu turpis porttitor, vitae egestas magna ullamcorper. Fusce neque dui, pharetra congue orci aliquet, sodales imperdiet massa. Maecenas id magna massa. Vivamus egestas semper congue. Mauris posuere, urna vitae dignissim sodales, ex nisi tempus leo, ut scelerisque ex elit sit amet turpis.

Vivamus ac orci hendrerit, dignissim quam et, suscipit elit. Pellentesque et varius dui. Integer accumsan nunc tempor ipsum rhoncus lacinia. Sed eu tortor sagittis, pharetra urna iaculis, feugiat metus. Aenean id erat sed est accumsan tristique id sed turpis. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Etiam et feugiat velit. Cras augue elit, euismod et risus interdum, consequat porttitor urna. Cras blandit nunc in est auctor, vitae pharetra justo cursus. Ut egestas aliquet felis quis semper. Aenean ultrices, turpis vitae rhoncus finibus, lorem tortor scelerisque dolor, sed lacinia nulla ante a tellus. Pellentesque at nulla in nisl ullamcorper rutrum.

If you have a page full of text, you can break it up with headings. Use them just like your eyebrows to cue your reader to what’s coming.

Example 2.

Dignissim turpis

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aliquam mauris dolor, molestie sed diam non, auctor dignissim turpis. Nullam laoreet massa nec elit vestibulum, quis consectetur augue fermentum. In maximus justo commodo interdum venenatis. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum molestie lacus ut luctus maximus. Vivamus tincidunt felis quis ornare rutrum. Maecenas ac dui dui. Nunc vitae massa eu quam interdum ornare. Nunc augue massa, sollicitudin in purus eu, pellentesque maximus lorem. Mauris tristique ipsum a consequat vestibulum.

Sodales purus

 Vivamus at scelerisque metus, nec luctus eros. Ut lectus mi, pharetra sagittis mauris interdum, vestibulum sollicitudin urna. Curabitur gravida mattis elit, id auctor sem aliquam ac. Sed maximus ultrices mauris, egestas cursus massa pulvinar ut. Ut semper eget lacus vel tincidunt. Curabitur non rutrum tortor, in sodales purus. Mauris at tellus in dui semper ultricies auctor id eros. Phasellus rutrum diam elit, sed placerat ex efficitur ac. Donec commodo nisl eu turpis porttitor, vitae egestas magna ullamcorper. Fusce neque dui, pharetra congue orci aliquet, sodales imperdiet massa. Maecenas id magna massa. Vivamus egestas semper congue. Mauris posuere, urna vitae dignissim sodales, ex nisi tempus leo, ut scelerisque ex elit sit amet turpis.

Tempor ipsum

Vivamus ac orci hendrerit, dignissim quam et, suscipit elit. Pellentesque et varius dui. Integer accumsan nunc tempor ipsum rhoncus lacinia. Sed eu tortor sagittis, pharetra urna iaculis, feugiat metus. Aenean id erat sed est accumsan tristique id sed turpis. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Etiam et feugiat velit. Cras augue elit, euismod et risus interdum, consequat porttitor urna. Cras blandit nunc in est auctor, vitae pharetra justo cursus. Ut egestas aliquet felis quis semper. Aenean ultrices, turpis vitae rhoncus finibus, lorem tortor scelerisque dolor, sed lacinia nulla ante a tellus. Pellentesque at nulla in nisl ullamcorper rutrum.

Here’s what you’ve accomplished.

  • The heading creates white space, which our brains read as room to breathe. Now instead of mentally expecting to have to read all this text, we realize that just a portion is about what we are interested in.
  • Now your reader can scan the page, look for the right heading, then dive more deeply into the content.
  • A heading can be one work or descriptive, but try to keep it short. Your eyebrows don’t connect your ears. They’re just long enough to get the job done.

Let’s give your readers another useful marker.

Bullets

This is a string of bullets.

It’s impressive, but not very useful without the right tool. And here’s the tricky thing about bullets. One or two used effectively can be a wonderful way to get somebody’s attention.

Remember those big blocks of text that filled the page? What if we took a couple of key points and presented them like this?

Example 3.

Dignissim turpis

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aliquam mauris dolor, molestie sed diam non, auctor dignissim turpis. Nullam laoreet:

• Massa nec elit vestibulum
Quis consectetur
• Augue fermentum.

In maximus justo commodo interdum venenatis. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum molestie lacus ut luctus maximus. Vivamus tincidunt felis quis ornare rutrum. Maecenas ac dui dui. Nunc vitae massa eu quam interdum ornare. Nunc augue massa, sollicitudin in purus eu, pellentesque maximus lorem. Mauris tristique ipsum a consequat vestibulum.

Sodales purus

 Vivamus at scelerisque metus, nec luctus eros. Ut lectus mi, pharetra sagittis mauris interdum, vestibulum sollicitudin urna. Curabitur gravida mattis elit, id auctor sem aliquam ac. Sed maximus ultrices mauris, egestas cursus massa pulvinar ut. Ut semper eget lacus vel tincidunt. Curabitur non rutrum tortor, in sodales purus. Mauris at tellus in dui semper ultricies auctor id eros. Phasellus rutrum diam elit, sed placerat ex efficitur ac. Donec commodo nisl eu turpis porttitor, vitae egestas magna ullamcorper. Fusce neque dui, pharetra congue orci aliquet, sodales imperdiet massa. Maecenas id magna massa. Vivamus egestas semper congue. Mauris posuere, urna vitae dignissim sodales, ex nisi tempus leo, ut scelerisque ex elit sit amet turpis.

Tempor ipsum

Vivamus ac orci hendrerit, dignissim quam et, suscipit elit. Pellentesque et varius dui. Integer accumsan nunc tempor ipsum rhoncus lacinia. Sed eu tortor sagittis, pharetra urna iaculis, feugiat metus. Aenean id erat sed est accumsan tristique id sed turpis. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Etiam et feugiat velit. Cras augue elit, euismod et risus interdum, consequat porttitor urna. Cras blandit nunc in est auctor, vitae pharetra justo cursus. Ut egestas aliquet felis quis semper. Aenean ultrices, turpis vitae rhoncus finibus, lorem tortor scelerisque dolor, sed lacinia nulla ante a tellus. Pellentesque at nulla in nisl ullamcorper rutrum.

As with real bullets, make every shot count.

  • You’re the expert. Use your knowledge to present what your reader needs to find.
  • If your bullet is an action, begin with a verb.
  • Bullets don’t have to be complete sentences, so you can whittle them down to the most important words.

We have brows. We have bullets. But ballroom dancing?

Ballroom

Do you know how to do ballroom dancing? If not, how would you learn? I expect answers such as YouTube or lessons come to mind. In the old days, you’d have been shown a pattern like this:

The steps are numbered in the order you take them, so you and your partner know precisely what to do and when. You can do this for your reader. Be the choreographer. Rather than using bullets, use numbers.

Example 4.

Dignissim turpis

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aliquam mauris dolor, molestie sed diam non, auctor dignissim turpis. Nullam laoreet massa nec elit vestibulum, quis consectetur augue fermentum. In maximus justo commodo interdum venenatis. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum molestie lacus ut luctus maximus. Vivamus tincidunt felis quis ornare rutrum. Maecenas ac dui dui. Nunc vitae massa eu quam interdum ornare. Nunc augue massa, sollicitudin in purus eu, pellentesque maximus lorem. Mauris tristique ipsum a consequat vestibulum.

Sodales purus

 Vivamus at scelerisque metus, nec luctus eros. Ut lectus mi, pharetra sagittis mauris interdum, vestibulum sollicitudin urna. Curabitur gravida mattis elit, id auctor sem aliquam ac. Sed maximus ultrices mauris, egestas cursus massa pulvinar ut. Ut semper eget lacus vel tincidunt. Curabitur non rutrum tortor, in sodales purus. Mauris at tellus in dui semper ultricies auctor id eros. Phasellus rutrum diam elit, sed placerat ex efficitur ac. Donec commodo nisl eu turpis porttitor, vitae egestas magna ullamcorper. Fusce neque dui, pharetra congue orci aliquet, sodales imperdiet massa. Maecenas id magna massa. Vivamus egestas semper congue. Mauris posuere, urna vitae dignissim sodales, ex nisi tempus leo, ut scelerisque ex elit sit amet turpis.

Tempor ipsum

Vivamus ac orci hendrerit, dignissim quam et, suscipit elit. Pellentesque et varius dui.

  1. Integer accumsan nunc tempor ipsum rhoncus lacinia.
  2. Sed eu tortor sagittis, pharetra urna iaculis, feugiat metus.
  3. Aenean id erat sed est accumsan tristique id sed turpis.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Etiam et feugiat velit. Cras augue elit, euismod et risus interdum, consequat porttitor urna. Cras blandit nunc in est auctor, vitae pharetra justo cursus. Ut egestas aliquet felis quis semper. Aenean ultrices, turpis vitae rhoncus finibus, lorem tortor scelerisque dolor, sed lacinia nulla ante a tellus. Pellentesque at nulla in nisl ullamcorper rutrum.

This works when you need to show one thing is more important than another (ranking by priority). It works when you need to present things in a logical order (sequential steps), like you would in a procedure

Final thoughts

Remember, you’re not just an author. To your reader, you’re the teacher, the subject matter expert, and Google Maps all rolled into one.

So, we have the “C” and 3 “Bs” to help us package our message.

Cream: Important things to the top

B1 – Brows. Use headings.

B2 – Bullets. Set key ideas apart.

B3 – Ballroom. Number your steps.

Brows, bullets, and ballroom dancing. Three unlikely but useful tools to make you a better writer.

(c) 2017 David L. Colbert