by Cherie Tucker

January 2015

Some time ago we talked about making lists. You know that every A. must have a B., and every 1. must have a 2., and that you can NEVER have a single bullet – there must always be a second one. We established that. But lately I have come across some writers who feel that they must introduce the fact that they are about to make a list with some strange indicator. And then they punctuate the list as if it were still written horizontally.

It looked like this . . .

  • the transition was those dreaded dots,

  • there was no capital letter on the first word of each line, and

  • there were commas after each line with the word and before the last one!

You can have a colon at the end of your introductory mark, but NEVER those dots (called ellipsis marks, by the way). Then, even if the items are short, you must begin them with a capital letter, but you don’t need end punctuation with really short ones.

Bring the following with you to camp:

  • Warm clothes

  • Sleeping bag

  • Flashlight

If the bulleted items finish the sentence that your opening line begins, that’s when you end each item with a period.

When making lists, some misguided people erroneously think:

  • That you should end each line with a semicolon.

  • That you should have the word “and” before the last line.

  • That it is correct to list things that way.

They are so wrong. Here is how you make a list so people can read it:

  • Begin each line with the same part of speech, or use complete sentences for each line (one or the other, not both).

  • Start each line with a capital letter.

  • Use only periods at the end of each line, not commas or semicolons, if you need end punctuation.

  • Avoid “and” at the next-to-the-last line.

Now you try it. And if you need a good example, check your cookbooks. Each line begins with a verb that you are to do next: add, combine, stir. So easy to follow.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well. GrammarWorks@msn.com.

Cherie TuckerComment