A Few Rounds About Bullet Lists
Before reading this post you might wanna check one we published a while ago titled 7 Rules For Formatting Lists. Here’s a quotation from it:
“The items in unnumbered lists are often preceded by dots or other symbols known collectively as bullets, though such markers are technically not necessary, especially in a recipe or a materials list. (In those cases, it’s implicit that the ingredients or components are added or constructed in the order listed — it’s actually a numbered list that needs no numbers.)”
A bullet list lets you
- display a set of terms, phrases, or statements clearly.
- prevent reader fatigue or confusion in the form of a long run-in list in a sentence.
- avoid repetition by following an introductory phrase with “fill-in-the-blank” list items.
Keep these guidelines for constructing bullet lists in mind:
- If each of the items in a bullet list completes a sentence begun with an introductory phrase, the first letter of the first word of each item should be lowercase, and the last word should be followed by terminal punctuation (a period, question mark, or exclamation point), as in the preceding bullet list.
- The format in the previous list, however, is not recommended for items consisting of less than a few words, unless listing multiple items as a run-in list in a sentence would produce a ponderously long sentence.
- If all list items are complete sentences, they should follow an introductory statement ending with a colon, as in this bullet list.
- If all list items are incomplete sentences, they can follow an open introductory phrase or one ending with a colon; in the latter case, the first letter of the first word in each item should be uppercase.
- The first letter of the first word of each complete sentence should be uppercase, and complete sentences should include terminal punctuation.
- All items in a list should have the same format — a word a phrase, or a complete sentence — and should follow the same grammatical structure.
- If every item in a list begins with the same word or phrase, try to incorporate the word or phrase into the introductory phrase or statement, then delete it from the list items.
- Avoid creating a bullet list in which one or more items consist of very long sentence or more than one sentence; if this is the case, it’s better to use traditional sentence form.
A bullet list with a closed introductory phrase and whose items are single words should be formatted as follows:
Likewise, a bullet list with a closed introductory phrase and whose items are short phrases should be formatted as follows:
- personal identification number
- automated teller machine
- liquid-crystal display
The following elements are superfluous in a bullet list with an introductory phrase ending in a colon:
- A comma after each item
- A semicolon after each item
- The word and or or following a comma or semicolon in the penultimate item
- A period following the last item
A bullet list preceded by an open-ended introductory phrase may but need not include
- a semicolon (not a comma) after each item;
- the word and or or following the semicolon in the penultimate item (optional); and
- a period following the last item.
Want to improve your English in 5 minutes a day? Click here to subscribe and start receiving our writing tips and exercises via email every day.
Recommended Articles for You
Subscribe to Receive our Articles and Exercises via Email
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!