The Best Lists

Here’s a list of ways to make your lists great (again). (sorry).

The best lists:

  • Are shorter lists.  Most people can only remember 5-9 items easily.  If you have 10 or more items in your list, break them into categories or topics.
  • Are parallel in grammatical structure.  Fancy-sounding term, but it simply means that each item is phrased the same way.  If your items are verb phrases (-preheat the oven, -melt the butter), make them all the same form.  Same with noun phrases (-decision techniques, -effective strategies).
  • Deserve a lead-in. Most lead-ins consist of a grammatically complete clause followed by a colon.

    All lists deserve a lead-in

  • Are well-punctuated.   Rules for punctuating lists can vary (your organization may have a preferred style), but for the most part punctuate your lists like this.

    For items written as phrases, use a lowercase letter at the start. Do not use a period or a comma at the end.

    For items written as complete sentences, punctuate just like any other sentence.

    Phrases and sentences?  Start each phrase with an uppercase letter and end it with a period. Begin the complete sentences with uppercase letters and end them with periods. Use italics to emphasize the phrases.

  • Are aligned visually. In most lists, the second and subsequent lines, called turnovers, align under the first letter of the first line, highlighting the bullet or number to the left of the text. This hanging indentation helps the reader see and understand the organization of the passage.
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