Bulleted lists

By Marina Pantcheva

Bulleted lists are useful when you want to create a list that stands out from the text without implying a certain chronology or ordering of the items. Lists help the reader identify the key points in the text. However, cluttered and inconsistent bulleted lists can lead to the opposite result. Here you can read a few simple rules about how to create a neat and clear bulleted list.

Keep the items short

The items of a bulleted list must be short. Avoid bulleted items that are longer than two lines. If you need to have longer items, put them in the running text.

Bulleted items should not repeat parts of the introductory sentence. If you have bulleted items that start with the same words, consider including the words in the introductory sentence.

Keep the items parallel

The items of a bulleted list must be of the same type. If your list items are sentences, they must be all sentences. If they are phrases, they must be all phrases. If they are single words, they must be all single words.

The items of a bulleted list should be of the same size. If you use sentences, try to have them of approximately the same length (and not longer than two lines). If you are using phrases, try to have them contain approximately the same number of words.

The items of a bulleted list must begin with the same part of speech: nouns, verbs, etc. If you use verbs, make sure they are in the same tense.

Punctuation in bulleted lists

The introductory sentence must end with a colon (:).

If you have sentence items, each of them must begin with an uppercase letter and end with a full stop.

The plan for today’s meeting is as follows:

  • Executive director Marshall Blix will present the new marketing plan.
  • Financial adviser Chris Skinny will review the sales from the last 7 days.
  • Fireman Marta Collins will talk about workplace safety.

If your items are words or phrases that do not form a full sentence by themselves, style guides suggest that they begin with a lowercase letter and are punctuated as follows:

  • no punctuation after the first item
  • no punctuations after the second, third, etc., items
  • a full stop after the last item.

A more formal style (used in legal writings) is to use this punctuation:

  • a semicolon after each item but the last;
  • a full stop after the last item.

If your penultimate item ends with and or or, place a comma come before and or or.

My favorite colours are:

  • aquamarine blue
  • carmine red, and
  • cadmium yellow.

A bulleted list about common mistakes in bulleted lists:

When creating a bulleted list, avoid:

Fancy symbols for the bullets;
Nested bulleted list. This creates:

– clutter
– confusion; and
– nausea.

Items beginning with:

– the same word, or
– the same phrase.

inconsistent punctuation and formatting,

Do not mix sentence items and phrase items in the same list.

When creating a bulleted list, avoid repeating (parts of) the introductory sentence.







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