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  • Writer's pictureAmanda George

Shall we bite the bullet?


I’ve been agonising over bulleted lists – how to punctuate them – for months. What I learnt when I first trained seems to be slightly irrelevant now. To be fair, it was quite formal – Semicolon Central in fact. Things change – there are new trends, simpler ways to do things – and it is our job as proof-editors to investigate and decide which ones we should (or want to) adopt.


Humour me for a moment.


Let’s start with lists of complete sentences, which are probably the simplest – but even they have options.


OPTION 1: Finish the introductory sentence with a full point.

OPTION 2: Finish the introductory sentence with a colon:


·      There are as many ways to punctuate bulleted lists as there are rainy days in the UK.

·      There is no ‘one right way’ to do it, BUT consistency is paramount.

· This example deals with lists of complete sentences.

·      Start each item in the list with a capital letter and end with a full point.

·      I’ve shown two options for the introductory sentence, a colon and a full point.   

·      Make sure they are all complete sentences and you don’t have any fragments.

· It’s ALWAYS about consistency and order, whatever else is going on.


With a list of single words, you can abandon punctuation altogether. Start each entry with a lower-case letter. Arguably, it could make the text look really:


·      clean

·      uncluttered

·      edgy

·      modern

·      fabulous


Sentence fragments, or run-on sentences, introduce a little more scope (confusion). The CIEP, New Hart’s Rules and Butcher’s Copy-editing all advocate no punctuation, with the exception of the last item in the list. White space effectively replaces the punctuation between each list item:


·      with each item forming part of a run-on sentence

·      which can be as short or as long as you want

·      and ending with a full point.


APA Style and Chicago Manual of Style offer more formal options. Both outline the possibility of:


·       starting list items with lower-case letters;

·       adding semi-colons at the end of each item;

·       sometimes using the conjunction ‘and’ to link to the final point; and

·       finishing it all off with a full point.


And there is yet another option:


·      When syntactically the list items are part of the introductory sentence

·      Starting each list item with a capital letter

·      And finishing without terminal punctuation

·      Like this


I’d like to know what you think.


·      Does it depend on the context?

·      Does it also depend on whether you’ve been given a style guide to follow?

·      Is the most important thing to you consistency?

·      Do you like your lists clean and unfussy or more formal and busy?

I'm not sure. For now, I'm going with the flow (meaning the context or the style guide I'm following).



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