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How to Format a Bulleted List (and More)

By
Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
Episode #484

The Introductory Sentence

If your lead-in statement is a complete sentence, use a colon at the end to introduce your list (see the numbered list example above). On the other hand, if your lead-in statement is a sentence fragment, don’t use a colon (see the bulleted list example above). 

Many people feel that the introductory statement looks wrong without a colon. It’s easy to solve the problem by rewriting it so that it’s a complete sentence.

Three steps will help you survive the zombie apocalypse: 

  • Stay calm
  • Find allies
  • Keep moving

Capitalization

After you’ve completed the introductory sentence, your next question will be whether to capitalize the first letter in the list items.

If your list item is a complete sentence, capitalize the first letter. If your list item isn’t a complete sentence, you can choose whether to capitalize the first letter—it’s a style choice. The most important thing is to be consistent. I prefer the capitalized style because I believe it looks better and because it’s easier to remember to capitalize everything than it is to remember to capitalize complete sentences and use lowercase for sentence fragments.

Punctuation

If your list items are complete sentences, or if at least one list item is a fragment that is immediately followed by a complete sentence, use normal terminal punctuation: a period, question mark, or exclamation point.

Zombies’ primary goal is to eat brains, but they also have other goals you may be able to manipulate: 

  • They want to stay warm. 
  • They are attracted to crowds (both zombie and human). 
  • They fear elevators.

If your list items are single words, very short sentences, or sentence fragments, you can choose whether to use terminal punctuation. The important thing is to be consistent. 

Finally, your text will be easier to read if you don’t put commas or semicolons after the items, and don’t put a conjunction such as and before the last item. All of these things are unnecessary clutter. If you find yourself wanting to format it this way, it probably means you should write it as a sentence instead of a list.

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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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