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Capitalization for a bullet list

Let's say I have a bullet point list e.g:

  • Point 1.
  • Point 2.
  • Point 3.

Notice I have put a capital letter for the starting letter of every bullet point and a full stop at the end. Is this the correct way to do it?

If not, what is the correct way to do it?

Do I put a capital letter and no full stop, or, the other way around, a full stop and no capital letter? Alternatively, do I not put a capital letter or a full stop? Is it only necessary to put a capital letter on the first bullet point and full stop on the last bullet point?

For reference, I'm from the UK so British-English grammar would apply.

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possible duplicate of Capitalization for a bullet list and Periods for bullet point items –  aedia λ Jan 17 '12 at 15:34
    
My questions encompasses both those topics and is specific to British-English grammer and is broader than both those questions listed above so I believe its different enough from both those topics in questions to warrant its place. –  RSM Jan 17 '12 at 15:36
    
I think those questions could be merged, but neither has a very good breadth of answers or citations. I think some more discussion could be warranted. –  Lynn Jan 17 '12 at 15:51
    
Hi Ryan, I don't know of any differences in formatting bulleted lists specific to British English. The guidelines for this tend to vary based on a publication's house style. For example, AP recommends one style, the APA gives suggestions for use in sentences, and a BBC tutorial and Oxford dictionary guidelines even have some small differences. –  aedia λ Jan 17 '12 at 16:00
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marked as duplicate by aedia λ, Mahnax, Matt Эллен, jwpat7, Jim Jan 17 '12 at 18:45

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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I found a site quoting the Chicago Manual of Style. I don't have the style manual handy, but this advice mirrors what I know from my personal experience.

"A vertical list is best introduced by a complete grammatical sentence, followed by a colon. Items carry no closing punctuation unless they consist of complete sentences. If the items are numbered, a period follows the numeral and each item begins with a capital letter. To avoid long, skinny lists, short items may be arranged in two or more columns. If items run over a line, the second and subsequent lines are usually indented." CMOS (6.127-28)

So if you're just listing points you would do:

  • point 1
  • point 2
  • point 3

(it is only necessary to capitalize points if they are "longer phrases" or follow a numbered list.)

If you were describing them, it might be:

  • This is something about point 1.
  • This is something about point 2.
  • This is something about point 3.

Edit: Adding this to answer Ryan's question in the comment.

Here is an example of combining both the enumeration of the items and the description, using one of the examples from the site I linked:

A computer lab needs various equipment:

  • Computers - Obviously a key component of a computer lab.
  • Desks - You need somewhere to put the computers.
  • Chairs - People need someplace to sit.
  • etc.
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What about if you were generally listing the point and describing it. Does this mean use 2 lists? How would this work in 1 list, for example: - point 1 this is something about point 1 –  RSM Jan 17 '12 at 15:33
    
No I don't think you need two lists. See my edited example. –  Lynn Jan 17 '12 at 15:39
    
Brilliant answer. Thank you. –  RSM Jan 17 '12 at 15:54
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I don't have a citation handy, but the general usage that I see is:

Bullet and number lists do not end with a period or other punctuation unless it is a complete sentence, except that a question mark or exclamation is used when appropriate. And bullet lists should rarely include complete sentences.

The first word in each entry is normally capitalized. When the entries look like titles, they may use title capitalization. (i.e. the first letter of each word capitalized except for articles and minor prepositions, etc) The only times I can think of when a bullet list does not have the first letter of each entry capitalized is when each is just one or two words.

Example 1: Very short entries, no need for capitalization

Animals in the zoo include:

  • monkeys

  • bears

  • lions

Example 2:

Things I do every day:

  • Get out of bed

  • Eat breakfast

  • Go to work

  • Come home

  • Watch TV

  • Go to bed

  • Repeat cycle!

Example 3: titles

Topics to be discussed include:

  • Saving the World

  • Saving Souls

  • Saving for a Vacation

When to use title case and when to just capitalize the first letter is highly debatable and subjective. If the entries are complete sentences, you should definately not use title case.

Most important, be consistent. Don't make half the bullet points full sentences and half just one or two words. Don't capitalize one and not the next. Etc.

I'm reminded of a lecture I once attended on writing style where the speaker had a slide on the importance of consistency with three bullet points, labeled "1.", "B.", and "Third".

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