I'm just seeing dots, working with colons. Is it correct to use a colon to introduce a list of items which begin with colons? Or is it quite superfluous?

Typically, I seem to employ this for lists of definitions, for example:

The database stores three types of data:

junk: data that no-one wants anymore.
useless: serves no purpose whatsoever.
irrelevant: haikus about birds.

I've found this resource to be pretty helpful when considering how I'm using colons, but as I'm writing a list like this I keep thinking there might be a better way, something clearer that doesn't overuse the punctuation.

All help appreciated!

  • I have personally no problem with colon, especially not in documentation. I would even bold the word before it: junk: data that no-one wants anymore. – mplungjan Oct 22 '13 at 5:48

Along with mplungjan, I believe a colon is fine in those cases. But if you wanted to limit its use you could consider a dash instead (I like spaces around em-dashes):

The database stores three types of data:

junk — data that no-one wants anymore;
useless — serves no purpose whatsoever;
irrelevant — haikus about birds.

This serves to set off the description of each type more clearly from its headword.

Given that it is a list, a semi-colon at the end of each list item is also valid. Or you could rely on the layout and not have any punctuation at the end of each line. A full-stop at the end of each line isn't grammatical — the whole quote forms the complete sentence — and it breaks it up too much.

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