How to Format a Bulleted List (and More)

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
Episode #484

bulleted list

We all know that vertical lists are a great way to display information in print and online. For example, this grammatically correct sentence works fine—To survive the zombie apocalypse, you should stay calm, find allies, and keep moving—but it’s more memorable when it’s presented as a list:

To survive the zombie apocalypse, you should

  • Stay calm
  • Find allies
  • Keep moving

Bullets, Numbers, and Letters

Once you’ve decided on a list, you have to make a few formatting choices. 

Use bullets when the order of the items doesn’t matter. For example, I used bullets in the last example because you have to continually stay calm and keep moving, and you will find allies whenever you can. It doesn’t matter which thing you do first, last, or in the middle. 

When the order isn’t important, I usually list the items alphabetically or in some other way that seems to make sense. In the zombie apocalypse example, I listed the goals starting with the least active (stay calm) to the most active (keep moving). 

Numbers are typically reserved for instances in which the items in the list need to happen in a specific order. For example, you could use numbers to list the tasks, in order, that are required to protect your hiding place in the mall while you sleep:

1. Wipe down the entrance to your hiding place

2. Place noisemakers such as tin cans across the doorway

3. Retreat inside

4. Cover the secondary entrance to block all light and sound

5. Ensure that your flamethrower is within reach

6. Lie down to sleep

Letters aren’t often used in vertical lists. They tend to make your list look like a multiple choice quiz question.  


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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