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I am consistently confused by by the usage of "as follows", in particular, I don't know if I should end "as follows" with a period, or with a colon.

Should I always use a colon, or can I sometimes use a period?

It feels more natural to use a colon, but I have only seen it in lists, but not sentences. For example, should I write:

  1. The description of each chapter is as follows: in chapter 1, we discuss the life story of Bill, and as we will see Bill grew up poor and had no family. In chapter 2, we will talk about how Bill became the richest man in New York. In chapter 3 we will talk about Bill's relationship with Jane. We have finished talking about all the chapters.

or

  1. The description of each chapter is as follows. In chapter 1, we discuss the life story of Bill, and as we will see Bill grew up poor and had no family. In chapter 2, we will talk about how Bill became the richest man in New York. In chapter 3, we will talk about Bill's relationship with Jane. We have finished talking about all the chapters.

    • The problem of using : to me is that the last sentence "we have finished talking..." is not a part of the chapters, but it feels that the colon also includes that sentence as a chapter, which feels wrong to me.

    • In fact, it feels that everything that comes after a colon is included in the list and the only way to signal to the reader you are no longer listing things is by starting a new paragraph, which is weird.

    • Also if you are listing many things, it feels that the : only includes the first thing, because you eventually have to put a period after it. If you were to replace the period with a comma, then you have created a run-on sentence.

What is the correct punctuation after "as follows"?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Edwin Ashworth, Drew, David, NVZ, Dan Bron Jun 23 '17 at 16:15

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    I like your use of the colon. It certainly does not announce only one item, but the whole list. The problem with the last sentence is not fixed by starting a new paragraph. The reader can figure out that the list ended. The problem is, no offense, that the words are not needed.By the way, why do you say we discuss, we will talk, and we will talk? – Yosef Baskin Jun 20 '17 at 21:10
  • Either 1 or 2.... – AmE speaker Jun 20 '17 at 21:49
  • Primarily opinion based question with 10k views lol. Love this. – Carlos - the Mongoose - Danger Apr 16 '18 at 22:14
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Semicolons to separate the chapters, as proposed in another answer, is certainly a valid approach. However, I'd like to answer from a different angle - one that comes from my experience with lists in technical writing, where they are very common.

First of all, the right punctuation after "as follows" is a colon. There's no way around that. "Follows" or "following" is the indicator. You could potentially get away with a period at the end of a sentence like "The following diagram illustrates the flow of X through Y." Even in this case, a colon is preferable. But if the lead-in actually ends with "as follows" or "the following", then a colon is the only option.

Regarding your question about whether the colon can introduce more than one sentence: Indeed it can. For example, here in this paragraph, it does. What I'm doing here is not the same as what you did in your example, though. Everything I'm saying is part of the same point. In your example, you actually have introduced a list, and each item in your list consists of a complete sentence, so the best way to present that would be as a bulleted or numbered list.

Incidentally, each of the items in the bulleted list would start with a capital letter, since it's a complete sentence. When you run into the first sentence directly from the lead-in, as I did in the previous paragraph, it's up to you (or the house style you're writing for) to decide whether to capitalise after the colon. I prefer to do so, but that isn't a binding rule.

Regarding your question about the last sentence, which isn't part of the chapters, I'm assuming that you know that the last sentence is unnecessary and that you've just used it as a (perhaps rather silly) example to raise the entirely valid question: "How do I indicate to the reader that this is no longer part of the stuff that followed the colon?" Your intuition is correct. A new paragraph is the way to do that, and there's nothing weird about it.

  • I generally agree with this analysis and have upvoted accordingly. Still, I'm not entirely sold on the idea that punctuating "as follows" with a colon is always required. The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition, at any rate, seems unwilling to commit entirely to that proposition: "6.62 Colons with "as follows" and other introductory phrases. A colon is normally used after as follows, the following, and similar expressions." Compare that wording with this: "6.60 Space after colon. In typeset matter, no more than one space should follow a colon." Now that's unequivocal. – Sven Yargs Jun 21 '17 at 5:02
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You should introduce your list with a colon, and separate items with semicolons.

From the University of Leicester:

The semi-colon

...

To separate items in a list

Use the semi-colon to separate items in a list when one or more items contain a comma. (These examples use a colon to introduce items in the list. An explanation of the use of the colon is given below.)

The speakers were: Dr Sally Meadows, Biology; Dr Fred Eliot, Animal Welfare; Ms Gerri Taylor, Sociology; and Prof. Julie Briggs, Chemistry.

The four venues will be: Middleton Hall, Manchester; Highton House, Liverpool; Marsden Hall, Leeds; and the Ashton Centre, Sheffield.

The main points in favour of the system were that it would save time for buying, accounts and on-site staff; it would be welcome by the reception staff; it would use fewer resources; and it would be compatible with earlier systems.

...

The colon

...

To introduce a list

The colon can be used to introduce the items in a list.

Topics discussed will include: the structure of viruses, virus families and current concerns in virology.

Students joining the department undertake to: attend all lectures and tutorials, meet deadlines for written work and contribute to tutorials and seminars

...

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    You should follow these guidelines if you're at the University of Leicester. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 20 '17 at 21:44
  • Most U.S. style guides that I'm familiar with deprecate the use of colons in instances like the first two in which the University of Leicester's style guidelines demand it—namely, "The speakers were:" and "The four venues will be:" at the beginning of sentences that end with a run-in series of entries punctuated with commas and semicolons. That doesn't mean that the UL's advice is bad for its own students; but it certainly does not reflect the views of all publishing houses and universities in the English-speaking world. – Sven Yargs Jun 21 '17 at 4:40

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