How to Format Lists

Our style guide formats bulleted or numbered lists with an introductory colon, a capital letter at the beginning of each listed item, and no punctuation at the end (unless the items in the list are complete sentences or they complete the sentence).

If the list includes nouns, it might look like:

  • Natural history
  • Natural selection
  • Homeostasis

If the list includes complete sentences, format it as:

  • Start the sentence with a capital letter.
  • End the sentence with punctuation.
  • Put punctuation inside of “quotation marks.
  • Choose the appropriate punctuation, right?

Best practice is to use parallel construction, which means  items in the list should feature similar grammatical structures or parts of speech. In the lists above, each item starts with either a noun or a verb. The same verb form is applied throughout the list (gerund, infinitive, or what have you).

If a list appears within a complete sentence, format the sentence and list just as you would in any sentence:

  1. follow each item with a comma,
  2. use lowercase in the list,
  3. write a conjunction after the comma in the second-to-last item, and
  4. end the sentence with punctuation.

If a list has a clause or phrase that requires internal commas for clarity (to separate adjectives, for example) or if each clause is especially lengthy, the list can be punctuated with semi-colons:

  1. follow each clause or phrase with a semi-colon;
  2. use lowercase for each item in the list;
  3. write and, but, or, so, however, or moreover (any conjunction will do) after the semi-colon in the second-to-last item;  and
  4. end the sentence with punctuation.

This last example is almost an exception to the style rule. An especially long, complex sentence is hard to understand when formatted as a vertical list, so consider making each item a complete sentence instead of linking them together as a paragraph-long run-on sentence. It’s just easier to read.