vertical lists

Follow the guidelines below when deciding how to format a vertical list.

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Vertical lists can be punctuated in a number of ways, but the writer should ensure that punctuation is consistent throughout the text.


The colon is generally used to introduce vertical lists. When the sequence of a list is random or arbitrary, the various elements may be simply indented or set off with bullets or em dashes:

These factors should determine committee size:

  • Number of employees at the work site
  • Variety of functions
  • Number of trade unions
  • Number of shifts

A colon can be used to introduce a vertical list even if the items in the series are a complement or object.

The supplies to be purchased include:

  • a tent
  • two air mattresses
  • blankets
  • a camp stove

However, it is better to use a full sentence before the colon, as shown below.

The supplies to be purchased include the following:


Use a semicolon after each item (and a period at the end of the list) if one or more items contain internal punctuation, or after each item of a list ending in and or or, even if the items contain no internal punctuation:

The Bureau has set the following priorities for the coming year:

  1. Determining customer needs;
  2. Improving teamwork and internal communication;
  3. Updating equipment to increase turnaround time; and
  4. Initiating quality-assurance procedures.


Items made up of sentences should begin with a capital letter and end in a period (or question mark):

The following factors affected grain yield:

  • Rainfall was exceptionally low in June and August.
  • The hailstorm of September 12 damaged crops in southern Alberta.

If a comma or semicolon is used after each item in a list, put a period after the final item.


Numbers and letters, enclosed in parentheses or followed by a closing parenthesis or period, are used to introduce items in lists where precedence or sequence is important:

The tasks assigned to the committee are as follows:

  1. setting up safety programs
  2. monitoring the programs
  3. dealing with employee complaints
  4. maintaining complete records
  5. making recommendations

Punctuation can be omitted after each item if the items are brief. Otherwise, a comma, semicolon or period is generally used.


Practice regarding capitalization of items in vertical lists varies.

The first word of each item is usually capitalized when the item is a complete sentence or when the annunciatory statement is a complete sentence.

The first word of each item is usually lower-cased if the items in the list are syntactically linked to the introductory statement, especially if the list is not introduced by a colon:

This versatile program can be applied to

  • personal development
  • management development
  • career counselling
  • team building

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