Following are some general guidelines for the use and punctuation of vertical and run-in lists.
Vertical lists are set off from the body text so they catch the reader’s attention. A vertical list is also the best way to organize lists with items that are lengthy or contain two or more sentences. Vertical lists may be bulleted or enumerated.
In a bulleted list, the bullet takes the place of punctuation (such as commas or semicolons) between items in a list. Don’t use any punctuation at the ends of bulleted items that are not sentences. There is also no need for a concluding period at the end of a bulleted list, even when that list continues a sentence—that lone period will look lost down there.
When your bulleted items are sentences, capitalize the first letter of each and use appropriate end punctuation. When they consist of single words or phrases, lowercase is best.
It is usually best to indent your bulleted list from the surrounding copy. Consider the density of the surrounding copy and whether your list might get lost, even with bullets.
Keep your bulleted lists consistent. If some of the items in a list are sentences, make all of them sentences. If some items begin with verbs, begin all items with verbs. In short publications, such as brochures, try to structure all your lists the same way—either sentences or not. In longer works, some variance is acceptable.
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In an enumerated vertical list, each item is preceded by a number or letter followed by a period. Use enumerated lists when you want to refer back to specific items (e.g., as in item 15 above). Numbers (as opposed to letters) are best used when sequential order is important, because that’s what numbers imply to readers.
Following are some guidelines for punctuation of numbered lists:
Align letters or numbers vertically along the periods that follow them (usually called decimal alignment or decimal tab), and align the text one space to the right. Second and subsequent lines of text should be aligned under the first letter of the first line of text (hanging indent).
Reserve the (1), (2), (3) or (a), (b), (c) format for run-in lists.
A run-in list should suffice if your list is short or if the items within the list are short. Run-in lists take up less space than vertical lists, but they’re harder to read.
If you plan to refer back to specific items in the list, enumerate the items with letters or numbers. Otherwise, simply separate the items with commas or semicolons.
Enumerate the items in a run-in list with numbers or letters enclosed in parentheses. There is no period or other punctuation enclosed within the parentheses, and there is no space between the number or letter and parentheses. Put one space between the closing parenthesis and the word that follows.
Use commas or semicolons to separate enumerated items exactly as you would if there were no (1), (2), (3) or (a), (b), (c).