Lists

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Lists are a great way to present information so it stands out in a way that’s easy to scan.

Make items in a list parallel. For example, each item should be a noun or a phrase that starts with a verb. If items in a list are meant to complete a thought begun by a preceding introductory fragment, each item should also end with a period.

Bulleted lists

Use a bulleted list for things that have something in common but don’t need to appear in a particular order.

Example:

The database owner can:

  • Create and delete a database.
  • Add, delete, or modify a document.
  • Add, delete, or modify any information in the database.

Note: In documentation, if a step in an ordered list of instructions includes a sublist of examples, options, etc., use bullets for those items, not numbering. Use numbering only to indicate sequence or progression. The inverse is also true; if an unordered list includes a sublist that is ordered, you can have a numbered sublist within a bulleted list.

Numbered lists

Use a numbered list for sequential items (like a procedure) or prioritized items (like a top 10 list).

Example:

To sign on to a database:

  1. On the File menu, select Open database.
  2. In Username, type your name.
  3. In Password, type your password, and then select OK.

Introductory text

Make sure the purpose of the list is clear. Introduce the list with a heading, a complete sentence, or a fragment that ends with a colon.

If you introduce a list with a heading, don’t use explanatory text after the heading unless such text is necessary and not redundant. Also, don’t use a colon or period after a heading.

Capitalization

Begin each item in a list with a capital letter unless there’s a reason not to (for example, it’s a proper noun, command line item, UI element, etc., that’s always lowercase).

Additional information about capitalization.

Punctuation

In bulleted and numbered lists, end each list item with a period if:

  • Any item forms a complete sentence when combined with the list introduction that precedes the colon.
  • Exception: Don’t use periods if all the items are UI labels, headings, subheadings, or strings.
  • Any item by itself is a complete sentence.
  • Don’t use semicolons, commas, or conjunctions (and, or, but) at the end of list items. List items will either end with a period or not.

Additional information about punctuation.

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