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How to punctuate (simple) vertical lists April 4, 2010

Filed under: Editing — sallyhanan @ 12:12 pm
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So many lists. So many ways to write them. Fortunately, punctuating them (in line with The Chicago Manual of Style) makes sense.

If you have a list with numbers, put a period after each number and capitalize each word.
1. Pen
2. Ink
3. Paper

When you are just listing things needed, all you need is a colon before the list. Don’t capitalize each line.
Include in your synopsis the following:
an introduction of the hero/heroine
a statement of his goals/motivations
the inciting incident
what stands in his way
the key elements of the story
the black moment
the MC’s epiphany

You can also put the above list in columns.

When you’re explaining the reasons for doing something, you can number and capitalize each point, but don’t end each one with a period if it is not a complete sentence.
Add ground flax seed to your food:
1. To lower your cholesterol
2. To add fiber to your diet
3. To improve digestion of your food

To get your teenager’s attention:
1. Make sure he knows you enjoy his company.
2. Look him in the eyes when he talks.
3. Validate his interest in things.

A vertical list should only be punctuated as a sentence if each item in the list needs to be emphasized.
The college student stated that
1. he was no longer going to follow in his father’s footsteps to manage the company;
2. he was quitting school to live as a homeless man for a year;
3. he had asked his father to give his inheritance, prematurely, to the local foundation for the homeless.

The punctuation would stay the same (in the above) if bullets were used instead of numbers.



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2 Responses to “How to punctuate (simple) vertical lists”

  1. Laura Says:

    These rules are quite different from those I learned and used over the past 30 years as a writer and editor. Also, I was taught to use bulleted lists, rather than numbered lists, unless the order of the items (as in a list of instructions) or the number of items in the list was important. (On another picky point, did you mean to include that final “s” in “other writers’s blogs”? — Laura (at

    • sallyhanan Says:

      Thanks for the typo fix, Laura!

      These rules are from the 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, and they only apply to fiction. Your class instructor probably taught from the 1982 edition, so the rules have likely changed a bit since then.

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