Lists are used in a variety of ways to emphasize information within a text. Lists draw the reader’s attention and package words in a way that makes them easy to digest; they can provide a useful visual framework to highlight important data.

The traditional list was in line with the text, and is now called a horizontal or run-on list. These are best introduced with a colon, and each item should be numbered with small letters or lowercase Roman numerals; numbers can be enclosed with brackets, or separated using a single closing bracket.

Some important punctuation marks include: (a) the comma; (b) en- and em-dashes, which should not be confused with a hyphen; and (c) end-of-sentence marks like the full stop, exclamation mark and question mark.
If you hear the fire alarm: i) make sure everyone near you is alerted; ii) calmly depart through the stairwell exit; iii) assemble outside the building at your designated refuge area.
Note: in these examples there is a short introductory phrase, and each list item is punctuated with a semicolon. The sentence must always read so that, even without the numbers, it remains grammatically sound. Use numerals rather than letters to provide a chronology or hierarchy for the list items.

Since the introduction of computers and word processors, vertical lists have become a popular way of displaying list material. Vertical lists can be ordered numerically or alphabetically:

 Partridge in a pear tree
 first item
 Two turtle doves
 second item
 Three French hens
 third item

or bullet pointed using various marks – here’s some popular ones found in most word processors:

this is the standard bullet point;
the circle is commonly used for secondary (or nested) lists;
the square point can be large or small (used throughout this website);
the en-dash or hyphen are useful for nested lists;
a triangle is an elegant variation;
asterisks and stars come in a variety of sizes;
white and black diamonds are popular;
this version of the black diamond is an elegant choice for formal texts;
these arrowheads may be a little ostentatious.
Note: the bullet lists used in HTML code for websites are called unordered lists and, at present, only use the first three of these marks: • ○ ■

The rules for punctuating bullet lists have never been properly standardised, and international style guides can vary in their approach. However, the general thrust of the various style guides is reasonably consistent, and I suggest you use the following guidelines for effective lists.

When the list items are short fragments with no attempt to form a sentence ☞

The left lane is restricted to:
  • trucks
  • taxis
  • cars with more than 2 occupants
  • motorbikes
[This is information only and needs no capitals or punctuation on any line.]
When the list items are short phrases but do not follow on from each other ☞

The duties of the committee:
  • To meet at least monthly
  • To maintain proper accounts
  • Make monthly reports to the members
  • Ensure the books are audited annually
[Longer items that form phrases in their own right may take capitals, but end-of-line punctuation can be dispensed with.]
When short list items are intended to be read grammatically with the introductory phrase ☞

A well written document must:
  • have a well-designed layout,
  • use good typography,
  • be properly bound, and
  • be properly edited.
[Essentially, punctuate these as you would a normal sentence. The penultimate ‘and’ is optional, and many style guides suggest it should be dropped. If there are less than 4 items, use a normal horizontal sentence.]
Where longer list items are phrases with commas and are to agree syntactically with the introductory phrase ☞

Some punctuation marks include:
  • commas, apostrophes and colons;
  • en- and em-dashes, which should not be confused with hyphens; and
  • end-of-sentence marks (e.g. full stops and exclamation marks).
[Again, the penultimate ‘and’ is optional. Capitals are not used here as these items are part of the sentence with the introductory phrase. End-of-line semicolons are optional, but the last item must have a full stop.]
When list items are complete sentences or paragraphs in their own right ☞

The 2014 conference will be held in Sydney, Australia:
  • Delegates are asked to register by September 2013. There are only 100 places available, so please get in early.
  • This year’s keynote speech will given by Dr Ogden Postelthwaite, professor of physics at Oxford University. His talk is entitled: Quantum physics: in the shadow of Einstein.
  • There will also be two guest speakers from Shanghai University who will talk on modern trends in astrophysics.
[Capitals and full stops for each item.]
When list items are complete sentences, it may be better to use numbers ☞

The conference will have three main sessions:
  1. A plenary session for delegates will be held in the main lecture theatre on day one.
  2. Day two will consist of individual group workshops (see your program for venue details).
  3. On the final day, there will be a series of lectures in the auditorium. Delegates can choose to attend any of these, but must register by 5 pm on day two.
[The numbers here reinforce the chronology of the items.]
Bullet list items can have nested (or indented) sub-lists ☞

The conference has attendees from many places:
  • A number of delegations from Europe –
    • United Kingdom
    • Germany
    • Russia
    • Norway
  • Representatives from the Asia-Pacific –
    • China
    • Malaysia
    • New Zealand
    • Papua New Guinea
  • State delegates from within Australia –
    • New South Wales
    • Queensland
    • Victoria
    • Western Australia
[Use a different bullet shape for the nested lists. When the main list is introduced with a colon, use an en-dash to introduce each nested list.]
Lists can contain a mixture of bullet points and numbers ☞

For the camping trip, you will need to pack the following items:
  1. Utensils for cooking –
    1. small pot and pan, plus
      • long metal tongs
      • metal eggflip
      • metal billy can
    2. matches and fire-starters
    3. cleaning liquid and scrubber
  2. Sleeping equipment –
    1. sleeping bag with liner
    2. pillow and air mattress
  3. Wet weather clothes, including –
    1. gum boots
    2. raincoat
    3. rainproof hat
[The hierarchy for ordered lists with nested sub-lists is usually number, letter, bullet mark: 1., a., •. However, other schemes like A., i., ‣ are acceptable.]