Punctuation for lists (Part 2)

Display lists are ideal when you want to list three or more items in your document. It is easier for your readers to follow, since they are visually itemized and easier to remember and make reference to the issues being addressed.

There are two ways to create a display list. Either introduce the list with a complete sentence (this is the ideal way) or introduce the list with a phrase or word. Punctuation plays a major role either way.

In Part 1, we examined the list introduced by a complete sentence.  Here is an example the other way to write a display list. Pay particular attention to the use of punctuation in each case.

Example of list introduced by an incomplete sentence

Seven things to include when you pack for your vacation are—

  • a tube of toothpaste, because most hotels never have toothpaste available;
  • a phone charger and cord (buying a new one may be expensive);
  • sunscreen products, for protection from head to toe;
  • an umbrella, because weather happens;
  • enough of your medication, to avoid the inconvenience of getting them refilled;
  • your favorite snacks—cheaper than buying them in a store on site; and
  • a box of large plastic baggies, for shells and trinkets you may pick up and for clothes you don’t get to wash.

Notice the punctuation in the list. The introduction is a phrase, followed by a long (em) dash. Using no punctuation here is also acceptable.

Each bulleted item ends with a semicolon and not a comma because some of the bulleted items contain punctuation (commas). The penultimate bulleted is followed by the word “and.” The last item ends with a period end with a period.

What if all the items were short phrases?

Seven things to include when you pack for your vacation are—

  • a tube of toothpaste,
  • a phone charger and cord,
  • sunscreen products,
  • an umbrella,
  • enough of your medication,
  • your favorite snacks, and
  • a box of large plastic baggies.

Notice that none of the bulleted items has any punctuation. Each one is a short phrase (not a complete sentence). Therefore, you can use a comma after each bulleted item, and use a period at the end of the last bulleted item. Note: This list also might be numbered, since a number (7) is mentioned in the introductory sentence.

Go to editsbymarks.com for help with all your writing and editing needs.

About The dutty is "the ground," the foundation, the earth--just like words are part of the foundation on which I build my life.

Reason for being: To tell stories and help writers and others with a message to put their best word forward.
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