How to create and punctuate bullet lists

The bullet list is a great tool for communicating information succinctly. Our editors explain how to introduce, format and punctuate bullet points.
Share
Formatting documentsProofreadingPunctuation

The bullet list is a great tool for writers and editors. Whether you want to present text in bite-sized pieces, highlight information or set out steps in a process, the list is your friend.

There are several types of lists, but we’ll cover those most used – run-on lists, lists with standalone sentences, and ‘shopping lists’.

Run-on lists

Each item in a run-on list ‘runs on’ from lead-in text that ends with a colon. Each bullet point is only a fragment of a sentence, which is read in combination with the lead-in text.

Each point in a run-on list should:

  • flow seamlessly from the lead-in text
  • start with the same type of word, such as a verb or noun (known as parallel structure)
  • have minimal punctuation, with a full stop on the last point only
  • start with a lowercase letter.

The last two points above are style calls that aren’t set in stone. Some organisations prefer to end each point in a run-on list with a semicolon (except for the last point), which others consider to be old‑fashioned. Some prefer to start each point with a capital letter. So, check your organisation’s style.

The best way to check that a list is parallel is to read each point as an alternative ending to the lead‑in text. If any don’t run on logically from the lead-in, there’s editing to do. Compare the list above to the one with inconsistent structure shown below.

When you write a run-on list, you need to:

  • bullet points should flow seamlessly from the lead-in text
  • start each point with the same type of word, such as a verb or noun (known as parallel structure)
  • minimal punctuation, inserting a full stop on the last point only, is preferred
  • start each point with a lowercase letter.

Note: Even lists in plain body text must still run in parallel. For example: This report will begin with a focus on financial results, stakeholder dividends and Board diversity.

Standalone lists

A list can be made up of separate sentences that can stand on their own, with each point ending in a full stop. This type of list must start with a lead-in that is also a complete sentence.

Our analysis identified several issues that affected our performance:

  • Sales were down on the previous year, reducing revenue and cash flow.
  • Staff turnover was higher than anticipated, leading to staff shortages.
  • The Board lacks diversity, which the department hopes to resolve.

Not

Our analysis identified several issues that affected our performance:

  • Sales were down on the previous year, reducing our revenue.
  • higher turnover of staff
  • lack of diversity on the Board.

Shopping lists

A shopping list usually consists of single-word items (see our example below). Present them in alphabetical order unless you need to group items in a particular way. If you need to show priorities, consider using a numbered list.

The colours you can choose from are:

  • black
  • blue
  • green
  • orange
  • purple
  • red

Note: You don’t have to insert a full stop at the end of the last point in a shopping list.

Sub-lists

Some lists have more than one list level – or sub-lists. Aim to restrict lists to two levels. Otherwise, it can be hard for the reader to follow the text. The rules for these lists are the same as for run-on and standalone lists (see our examples).

This report will focus on:

  • financial performance, including:
  • profit and loss
  • debts
  • shareholder dividends
  • our Board’s diversity.

Or

Each section of this report will address one of the issues identified in our analysis:

  • Sales were down on the previous year, which:
  • reduced revenue and cash flow
  • affected our ability to hire extra staff for busy periods.
  • Staff turnover was higher than anticipated, leading to staff shortages.
  • The Board lacks diversity, which the department hopes to resolve.

Semicolons in lists

Sometimes semicolons can add clarity to a list, such as in legal documents or when writing a complex list in plain body text. In the latter case, semicolons can help to group items. They can make the list easier to read, especially if one or more of the list points includes internal punctuation and the words ‘and’ or ‘or’. For example: The minister is responsible for education, health and family services; innovation, research and science; and immigration and industry.

Learn more

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate?

Tips for creating great tables

More Insights

Content strategyMarketingSocial mediaWriting
Social mediaThought leadershipWriting
EditingPlain EnglishVocabulary
BooksReadingWriting
Scroll to Top
Editor Group

The right words to help you grow sales, deliver messages and meet your compliance needs.