Grammar: Lists

 

Lists belong principally to instructional works. They have the advantage of presenting information methodically and concisely and are useful to
readers who might need to consult them more than once. On the other hand, they are not the most elegant way of writing and too many of them
can be daunting and counterproductive. When lists are chosen, then, it is important to follow the conventions that make then as clear as possible.

 Items in horizontal lists are separated by commas when the items are short –

      A number of things need to be considered before starting your own
      business, such as premises, finance, product demand, staffing and
      access to customers

and by a colon and semicolons when they are lengthy –

      A number of things need to be considered before starting your own
      business: premises, which may be bought or rented; finance, such as a
      secured bank loan; demand for the product or service; staffing, including
      recruitment and selection; and access to customers.

Items in vertical lists begin with capital letters only when they are headings with more information to follow or when they are full sentences –

      A number of things need to be considered before starting your own
      business:

          •  Premises. The location must be chosen with care...
          •  Finance. Money can be raised in several ways...
          •  Demand. ...
          •  Staffing. ...
          •  Access to customers. ...

When the entries are not full sentences, listed items begin in lower case unless they are proper nouns –

      A number of things need to be considered before starting your own
      business:

          •  premises, which may be bought or rented
          •  finance, such as a secured bank loan
          •  demand for the product or service
          •  staffing, including recruitment and selection
          •  access to customer 

Note that vertical lists now dispense with intervening punctuation. There are no commas or semicolons, no and after the penultimate item and no
full stop at the end.1

The introductory words take a colon when, as in the previous examples, they form an independent (sentence-like) clause, but not when they begin
a sentence that the listed items continue –

      Before starting your own business, you need to consider 

          •  premises, which may be bought or rented
          •  finance, such as a secured bank loan
          •  demand for the product or service
          •  staffing, including recruitment and selection
          •  access to customers

Each listed item also needs to begin in a way that is grammatically compatible with the introductory phrase or clause. This might seem a trite
observation, but there are errors galore on the printed page –

      We suggest that you:

          •  merely glance through the book first time round
          •  use it or the sections of it relevant to your problems
          •  after you get an essay back, read those sections of the book which
             relate to the points criticised

Apart from the inappropriate colon, the final item in this list is grammatically incompatible with the introductory phrase. The example (ironically 
from a book on how to write essays) shows how easily writers can lose their way as they proceed through their 
lists.

If the listed items are numbered or lettered, the numbers or letters appear in round brackets when the list is horizontal, but no longer when it is
vertical –

      A number of things need to be considered before starting your own
      business: (1) premises, which may be bought or rented; (2) finance,
      such as a secured bank loan; (3) demand for the product or service;
      (4) staffing, including recruitment and selection; (5) access to customers.


      A number of things need to be considered before starting your own business:

          1.  premises, which may be bought or rented
          2.  finance, such as a secured bank loan
          3.  demand for the product or service
          4.  staffing, including recruitment and selection
          5.  access to customers

Adding points after the numbers makes for greater clarity.

 

____________

The Guardian recommends full stops at the end of each bullet-pointed item. (The Guardian Style Guide, updated
   May 2012. Accessed 27.05.12.)