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Bulleted Lists: Capitalization and Punctuation

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Before the introduction of word processing (via word processors and computers), most publications displayed lists in either outline form or numbered lists. Now we have bullets. This creates a new layer of confusion on how to use capitalization and punctuation in such lists. Following are some questions and answers to use as guidelines:

When is it better to use bullets than numbers?
Use numbered lists when you’re working with instructions to be done in sequence, and the numbers suggest a hierarchy. The same applies when someone may refer to specific items by number. Numbered and unnumbered lists are more commonly used in scholarly publications. If numbers aren’t essential, use bullets, especially in business documents.

When do I capitalize the first letter in a bulleted item?
In most cases, experts recommend that you start each bulleted item with a capital letter. We’re so programmed to capitalize only proper nouns and the first word of a complete sentence that it almost seems wrong to capitalize single words and phrases. Do it anyway.

When do I use periods and when do I leave bulleted items without end punctuation?

RULE: Use periods after independent clauses, dependent clauses, or long phrases that are displayed on separate lines in a list. Example:

In this project, the equipment shall consist of:

  • Three horizontal centrifugal pumps with design temperature of 100 degrees F.
  • Three electric motors, in accordance with Appendices II and IIA.
  • Three steel base frames.

RULE: Use periods after short phrases that are essential to the grammatical completeness of the statement introducing the list. Example:

There are a number of tags used in HTML, including:

  • Image tags.
  • Background tags.
  • Paragraph tags.

RULE: It’s not necessary to use periods after short phrases or single words in a list, if the introductory statement is grammatically complete (see below) or if the listed items are like those on an inventory sheet or a shopping list. Example:

The software in this price range offers many excellent features:

  • Windows 9x and up
  • Audio pronunciations
  • Rebate
  • Tutorial

RULE: When one item contains a complete sentence, punctuate all bulleted items as though they were complete sentences: capitalize the beginning words and use a period at the end of each item. Example:

You will not be accepted if you have been diagnosed with:

  • Arthritis.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Asthma or some allergies. Please list your allergies and give date of last flare-up.

RECOMMENDATION: If you’re creating a long document full of bulleted items, you may choose to be consistent and end each item with a period.

RECOMMENDATION:
Never use the following format:

We strongly recommend that you

  • finish the project by Friday, January 23;
  • place everything you’ve turned in to date, plus this assignment, on a floppy disk; and
  • label all file pages (and the disk itself) with your designated code.

If you want to use the semicolons, then delete the bullets and create a sentence.

If you’re creating a long document full of bulleted items, be consistent and end each item with a period. Within a grouping, always use all periods or no periods.

You’ll always do well if you follow the above guidelines, and recognize the need of the reader to grasp information quickly and easily.

Writer, copyeditor, and web developer Judy Vorfeld offers website makeovers;
small business consulting; along with website, document, and book copyediting.
She publishes two ezines, offers a grammar and writing resource section on
her site http://www.ossweb.com, and also offers a free text-only ezine template.
Vorfeld, who started her business over ten years ago, lives in the Phoenix,
Arizona area. Her companion site is Webgrammar: http://www.webgrammar.com.

Bulleted Lists: Capitalization and Punctuation
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This entry was posted in Business.
About Judy Vorfeld
Writer, copyeditor, and web developer Judy Vorfeld offers website makeovers; small business consulting; along with website, document, and book copyediting. She publishes two ezines, offers a grammar and writing resource section on her site http://www.ossweb.com, and also offers a free text-only ezine template. Vorfeld, who started her business over ten years ago, lives in the Phoenix, Arizona area. Her companion site is Webgrammar: http://www.webgrammar.com. WebProNews Writer
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