The Best Lists

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, divide the items into categories or topics.
  • Are parallel in grammatical structure.  Whether your items are single words (-hammer, -saw) or verb phrases (-preheat the oven, -melt the butter) or noun phrases (-improved decision making, -effective strategies) or even complete sentences, just make sure all the items in that list are phrased the same way.
  • Are introduced with a lead-in. Most lead-ins are grammatically complete clauses 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 these examples.

    Example 1: For items written as phrases, use a lowercase letter at the start. Do not use a period or a comma at the end.

    Example 2: For items written as complete sentences, punctuate just like any other sentence.

    Example 3: 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 and/or bold 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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