GrammarPhile Blog

Vertical Lists (or Bullet Lists)

Posted by Phil Jamieson   May 1, 2012 6:30:00 AM

Sometimes it’s easier and clearer to convey important information in the form of a vertical list, sometimes also known as a bullet list. There are several forms, and the form you choose is up to you. Be consistent, though, and follow the general guidelines here.

It is best to introduce a vertical list with a complete grammatical sentence ended with a colon. We’ll discuss an exception later in this article. The list elements need not always be bulleted. Only end list items with punctuation if they form complete sentences. All items in your list should be of similar format, i.e., complete sentences all, or complete sentences none.

We visited several lakes over the summer:
Long Lake
Horsetooth Reservoir
Great Salt Lake
Lake Powell
Lake of the Ozarks
Lake Poinsett

You might choose to avoid a long, skinny list by making your list into two columns.

We included several items on our grocery list:

cream cheese          salad dressing
soap bacon
garbage bags crackers
soda beer

If you choose to number the items in your list, follow each number with a period and begin each list element in uppercase letters.

We’re thinking of raising backyard chickens for several reasons:

  1. Home-grown eggs are healthier than factory eggs.
  2. The children will have fun taking care of the chickens.
  3. Chickens are a good source of fertilizer.
  4. We can make extra money selling eggs to neighbors.
  5. Aunt Matilda gave us an elaborate chicken coop for Christmas.
  6. The chickens will eat lots of ticks on the grass and bushes.

As hinted earlier, you need not use numbers in your list.

The chickens must have the following characteristics:

  • colorful
  • quiet
  • pretty to view
  • good foraging instincts
  • blue eggs
  • mild temperament

If list elements run longer than a line, the second and subsequent lines are generally indented. If your list is numbered or bulleted, the runover lines are aligned with the first word following the number or the bullet.

We made a list of the five things we need to do to prepare for our new chicks:

  1. We need to build a brooder box. It’s easy to do using one of those plastic storage containers that has a lid. Just cut a couple of holes in one end of the lid for air, and cut a hole in the other end for the heat lamp.
  2. We need to build a chicken coop. That is not so easy. In fact, we’ll need some carpentry skills to build a good one. We might consider buying one from a catalog or the local farm store.
  3. We need to get some good books on raising chickens. Amazon has lots of them.
  4. We need to register at That way we’ll have a ready supply of instant advice from dozens of people who know everything about chickens.
  5. We need to get a supply of cheap egg cartons so we can put our eggs up for sale.

You can also form a vertical list as one long, punctuated sentence.

Following her visit to the local farmers market, Sassafras reported that

  1. farm-fresh, pasture-raised blue eggs were going for upwards of $6 a dozen;
  2. brown eggs were going for about $4 a dozen;
  3. duck eggs were commanding a premium at $7 a dozen; and
  4. turkey eggs were the most expensive at $9 a dozen.

The important considerations regarding lists are as follows:

  • be consistent in your form
  • be consistent in the structure of the elements
  • pay attention to indentations
  • resist the temptation to add a period to the last bullet item unless you are going with the one-long-sentence format described earlier

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