Common Errors in Vertical Lists
Employing vertical lists, which display related sets of words, phrases, or sentences entered on separate lines and marked with bullets (dots or other symbols), numbers, or letters to clarify the organizational scheme, is a sensible strategy for presenting numerous or complex details that would otherwise clutter a sentence. (An in-line list, a sequence of such elements in a sentence, is best used when the list is short and simple; the first sentence of this post includes two brief in-line lists.)
Take care, however, to avoid repetitive elements and inconsistent grammatical construction—the key is to make the list flow as smoothly as an in-line list. The following examples demonstrate faulty use of a vertical list; each is followed by a discussion of the problem and a revision of the list that provides a solution.
1. The tool is organized under four key areas:
• Understanding how the financial statement auditor considers cybersecurity risk,
• Understanding the role of management and responsibilities of the financial statement auditor related to cybersecurity disclosures,
• Understanding management’s approach to cybersecurity risk management, and
• Understanding how firms can assist boards of directors in their oversight of cybersecurity risk management.
In this vertical list, each element begins with an identical word: understanding. To avoid such repetition, simply integrate the common wording into the lead-in phrase:
“The tool is organized under four key areas, including understanding
• how the financial statement auditor considers cybersecurity risk
• the role of management and responsibilities of the financial statement auditor related to cybersecurity disclosures
• management’s approach to cybersecurity risk management
• how firms can assist boards of directors in their oversight of cybersecurity risk management.”
Note, too, the omission of the colon in the revision. In the original, the colon correctly follows a complete statement (“The tool is organized under four key areas”). However, in the revision, the lead-in text has been revised to be an open phrase that each element of the list completes, so no punctuation should intervene between the end of the lead-in text and the beginning of each element.
Also, the punctuation following each element, and the conjunction and preceding the final element, which mimic these components in an in-line list (as in “My pocket contains keys, a comb, and a pen”), is optional, as demonstrated by their omission in the revision. Do retain the final period, however, when the entire vertical list has a grammatically valid sentence construction.
2. Institutions will need to develop policies, procedures, and controls to define
• when it is reasonable to remove a loan from a loan pool for individual analysis
• when it is reasonable to develop a new loan pool if loans removed from a loan pool share similar risk characteristics.
In this example, each element begins with an entire identical phrase: “when it is reasonable to.” As in the previous example, such common wording can be moved to the lead-in text:
“Institutions will need to develop policies, procedures, and controls to define when it is reasonable to
• remove a loan from a loan pool for individual analysis
• develop a new loan pool if loans removed from a loan pool share similar risk characteristics.”
3. The following strategies are recommended:
• Design and deliver an annual cybersecurity strategy and program
• Mitigate active and emerging threats and exposures
• Demonstrable and quantifiable cybersecurity risk reduction
• Business and executive objectives alignment
• Predictable security budgeting
Here, two phrasing structures are employed inconsistently: The first two elements are complete sentences, and the others are phrases. To produce a cohesive list, revise list items so that they share a consistent syntax:
“The following strategies are recommended:
• Design and deliver an annual cybersecurity strategy and program.
• Mitigate active and emerging threats and exposures.
• Demonstrably and quantifiably reduce cybersecurity risk.
• Align business and executive objectives.
• Predictably budget security.”
Note that each complete sentence, following lead-in text that is a complete sentence, is now followed by a period. Alternatively, the first two elements of the original list can be revised so that all are phrases. (In that case, no final punctuation is necessary.)
4. Our approach to compliance includes the following steps:
• Discover: Identify high-risk areas to ensure a focused approach.
• Manage: Determine exposure and prioritize compliance activities.
• Protect: Implement changes to achieve compliance.
• Report: Provide evidence of accountability and compliance.
The use of colons after the first word of each element when a colon already appears at the end of the lead-in phrase is awkward; either revise the closed lead-in text to an open phrase that each element completes (lowercasing each initial word and each word following a colon in the process, and omitting all periods but the final one), or retain the original lead-in text but replace each element colon with a dash or parentheses (retaining initial capitalization of the key word but not the first word of the explanatory statement), or both. After some thought, I favor the second approach, opting, for a clean look, to parenthesize the explanatory statements and omit all final punctuation. The revision based on that strategy is shown below:
4. Our approach to compliance includes the following steps:
• Discover (identify high-risk areas to ensure a focused approach)
• Manage (determine exposure and prioritize compliance activities)
• Protect (implement changes to achieve compliance)
• Report (provide evidence of accountability and compliance)
5. The three primary cloud-deployment options are
• public cloud
• private cloud
• hybrid cloud.
This list has no errors, but it is too simple to merit vertical treatment unless it is displayed as shown for graphic emphasis, such as in a slide presentation, in which case the lead-in phrase could be condensed to “Three primary cloud-deployment options,” followed by a colon, and the period omitted. (Cloud could be omitted in each element, but because the phrasing in business jargon is “public cloud” and so on, it is best retained.) Here is the revision for in-line treatment: “The three primary cloud-deployment options are public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud.”
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