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Confused about punctuation in bullet lists?

Photo Credit: DerPoschist via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: DerPoschist via Compfight cc

A while back, the folks at Write in New Zealand talked about punctuating bullet lists. The post caught my attention because their practice is refreshingly straightforward.

Need a reminder of the complexity of most guidelines for punctuating bullet lists? Here’s an example from Daily Writing Tips.

Arrrgh!

The major style guides are just as complex. The 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (I don’t have a copy of the most recent edition) included five pages on lists, four of them devoted to “vertical” lists (aka bullet lists). I admit that there is some useful guidance about lists NOT related to punctuation (e.g., list types, parallelism, etc.) APA Style incorporated information on bullet lists only within the past couple of years.  Here’s an example of “correct” punctuation a la the APA.

Each child was seated at a separate station and given
●  an elephant, which all children could see but not touch in Experiment 1;
●  a kangaroo, which half of the children could see but not touch and half of the
children could both see and touch in Experiment 1; and
●  a giraffe, which was new to all children in this experiment.

If the folks at Write didn’t edit anything else in the APA example, they would leave off the semi-colons, as well as the conjunction and, creating a less visually dense text.

Each child was seated at a separate station and given
●  an elephant, which all children could see but not touch in Experiment 1
●  a kangaroo, which half of the children could see but not touch and half of the
children could both see and touch in Experiment 1
●  a giraffe, which was new to all children in this experiment.

The Write guidelines eliminate visual clutter like that found in bullet lists punctuated according to the complex rules of most “specialists.” And the guidelines themselves are simple enough to handle the vast majority of writing tasks in the workplace. 

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