Q. When a vertical list is introduced by a phrase (rather than a complete sentence), how is it punctuated?
A. Chicago recommends punctuating a phrase that introduces a list as if the list were a continuation of a sentence begun by the introductory phrase. This holds true whether the list is run into the text or presented vertically:
The items included bananas, pears, and grapes.
The items included
Many writers would add a colon after “included”—especially in the example with the vertical list, whose structure seems to warrant it. But a colon would separate the verb “include” from the objects it introduces.
To avoid that problem, add “the following” or otherwise reword the introduction so that it becomes an independent clause:
The items included the following:
or, for example,
The bag included three varieties of fruit:
See CMOS 6.130 for more examples and information.
Q. Which of the following is correct to introduce a list?
1. My service includes:
2. My service includes
Should the colon be used after the word “includes”? From my understanding, a colon should not be used after a verb (or a preposition). Also, the sentence “My service includes” is not a complete sentence by itself.
A. You are right. “My service includes” is not grammatically complete, because the transitive verb “includes” is missing a direct object. If you wrote “My service includes the following,” a colon should follow.
Q. What is the proper way to punctuate or structure a bulleted list of items that ends with “and much more!”? Thank you!
A. “And much more” can be the last item in the list, or it can be the first words of a paragraph that continues after the list. Punctuate the items as you would a list in running text. For guidelines on punctuating different kinds of lists, please see CMOS 6.127–32.
Q. I am evaluating annual reports for a large business, and have been unable to find the answer to my question of when to write numbers as words and when to use numerals when they begin the items in vertical (bulleted) lists. For example: sixty-nine people chose . . . or 69 people chose . . . Which is the correct choice? I would certainly appreciate your answering my question and I have no understanding of the reason this issue isn’t discussed in information concerning vertical lists.
A. Often when an issue is not discussed in CMOS it’s because it calls for common sense and flexibility rather than a one-size-fits-all rule. Our hope is that users can apply guidelines from other sections and use their judgment. At the beginning of chapter 9 you can find guidelines for spelling out numbers. For a vertical list, weigh the options: Are the listed items sentences, which read better with spelled-out numbers at the beginning? Are all the numbers at the beginning of a sentence? Can they be moved? Are there big, nonround numbers like 345 and 6,712, which are awkward to spell out? Look at your text and decide what style works best for making your lists readable. If numerals work best for some lists and words for other lists, you might decide that consistency need not be a goal except within a given list.
Q. I have a question about bulleted lists and capitalization. I’ve always written lists with the first word capitalized and then subsequent words, not (unless proper nouns of course). A colleague believes that every word other than prepositions or conjunctions should be capitalized.
—No artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives
—No Artificial Colors, Flavors, or Preservatives
I can’t seem to find a “rule” on this. Any help?
A. When a colleague wants to do something you find bizarre, the burden is on her to produce the rule. After all, CMOS doesn’t have the space to write “Don’t do this; don’t do that” with regard to every possibility. Meanwhile, you might point out that none of the examples of lists or outlines in CMOS 6.127–32 show headline-style capitalization of the items.
Q. When creating an outline for a research paper, does each object in the list regardless of hierarchy need to be a complete sentence?
A. In Chicago style, outline entries should be grammatically parallel whether they are all sentences or all fragments. However, your professor or thesis adviser might have rules that diverge from Chicago style, so it’s best to ask.
Q. I’m an editor for a training department. In our instructional material we often have long lists of objectives. Using Chicago’s standard for vertical lists (CMOS 6.130) makes them a little hard to read. Do you have an alternate suggestion? The instructional designers feel that it takes away from the meaning of the objectives when we reword the lead-in to be a complete sentence. For example, they don’t like “At the completion of this module you will complete the following.” They don’t like it because instructionally you’re not always “completing” something. Other ideas?
A. The instructional designers are reasonable to object to a sentence that sounds redundant and doesn’t accurately reflect what follows, whether it’s complete or not. Your job is to write the sentence so it works for them (as elegant and accurate) and for you (as a complete sentence). Ask them to supply the wording that satisfies them most by giving them a template with a blank or some multiple choices, such as “The following are (objectives? tasks? goals?) for this module:” or “Here are some topics you’ll explore:” and see if that makes them happy.
Q. I do not believe it makes sense to use a bulleted list of one item. If it is just one item, should it not simply be a paragraph?
At the end of many of our sections in an advocacy guide we have “Advocacy Reminders.”
Sometimes there are many; sometimes there is only one reminder. It seems to me if there is one reminder it should be a paragraph.
A. Although logically a list should have more than one item, bullets are more forgiving, especially if throughout a book like
yours, reminders are formatted in a special section the same way in every chapter. The visual cue of the identical formatting
would override a quibble about the logic of a single bullet point. Your bullets can be considered more like decorations than
Q. Is it ever okay to start a list with a sentence ending in a period instead of a colon? (“To determine the answer, use the following concepts.”) Does it matter if the list is set off by bullets or that the typesetting is different (by color or font, etc.)? What is the preferred method if both ways are correct? What if it is not a complete sentence? I appreciate the response. Me and a fellow copy editor are at odds.
A. Chicago’s preference is to use a colon, but there are times when a period might better serve. Please see CMOS for details on how to punctuate vertical lists and for examples that include sentences and sentence fragments. If you use a period, the list items should begin with capital letters. (P.S. I am averting my eyes from “Me and a fellow copy editor are at odds”—please tell me that this is just your fun email-writing style, or if it isn’t, that you aren’t editing anything important to our national security.)
Q. Two colleagues and I are disagreeing at work about the formatting of the text above vertical lists. The introductory element
is often a few words, and it is usually not a complete grammatical sentence, yet we end the introductory element with a colon.
One woman declared that this was wrong and that we should fix thousands of screens in hundreds of lessons by either rewriting
the introductory element as a complete sentence or removing the colon. What do you think?
A. In new text, I would edit as your colleague suggests, but since it sounds like a costly and time-consuming process for you
to change the ones you already have in place, you might compromise by replacing the offending intros only as you add new lessons
or revise old ones.