Can a list item have have more than one paragraph? if so, how many is the maximum recommended? and when that type of lengthy list item is used? Is there a difference in length between bullet and numbered list items?

I've never seen a list item of more than one paragraph, so I'm curious if they actually exist or are must nots.

After reading the answers and comments I clarify that I'm not referring to nested lists.

  • Are you talking about a list of dot points, or numbered items? Yes, they can definitely have more than one paragraph per item. Whether that is a good idea or not depends on the context. – nnnnnn Aug 19 '19 at 13:32
  • In beautifullife.info/automotive-design/… we find each item contains multiple paragraphs plus pictures. – GEdgar Aug 19 '19 at 13:32
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    Consult your style guide of choice. – Spencer Aug 19 '19 at 13:37
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    This is more of a typography question. That is not specific to English to boot. But yes, a list item can have paragraph breaks so long as it is otherwise made clear that the item still continues after the break. – RegDwigнt Aug 19 '19 at 17:01
  • This is purely a matter of style, and a function of the complexity of the topic. – Hot Licks Aug 19 '19 at 17:11

There comes a point when the list no longer looks like a list. This depends on how you demarcate list items, but may be when you can't guarantee two or more items on a page in many cases (such as bulletted or even numbered lists).

If items run to more than one paragraph each, I'd question whether a list as we usually use the term is the optimal way of presenting your set of items, your mental list. Instead (sub-) sub-sections with headings might be more useful to your reader. A list of short items may be used to summarise that section of text if you really need to.

An approach I've used in the past, I believe successfully, is to write body text with at least one paragraph for each item in my mental list. The first few words of each item were emphasised and gave a very brief (even single word) key to the subject of the next paragraph or two. I'm not even sure whether to call this structure a list as such, but it's a method of discussing each item in a list. This was in a thesis and technical documents.

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There are no prescribed lengths for list items in English. They can have breaks - these are often seen in nested lists.

Legislation and other legal documents, for example, can have lengthy list items.

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The requirements for list items is still evolving. I do not think that there are any formal rules that apply. My untutored sense of the meeting is that you have to fall back on common sense. My own common sense (being naturally the best) tells me that you would best follow the literary principles.

However, the Wikipedia entry on the topic is instructive and helpful.

Items—known as "bullet points"—may be short phrases, single sentences, or of paragraph length. Bulleted items are not usually terminated with a full stop unless they are complete sentences. In some cases, however, the style guide for a given publication may call for every item except the last one in each bulleted list to be terminated with a semicolon, and the last item with a full stop. It is correct to terminate any bullet point with a full stop if the text within that item consists of one full sentence or more. Bullet points are usually used to highlight list elements.

But what is the point of a bullet point? The word point is the clue. It is supposed to be short. Why? In order to make it easy to (a) absorb quickly and usually (b) to present as a readily assimilated and remembered list. Otherwise, Why use them in the first place. As the Wiki article points out, we are usually talking about somewhere between a single word and a short sentence. Shopping lists are the easiest (but scarcely call for any of the gallimaufry of little 'points' now available). They can extend to
phrases or whole sentences, when, for example, they are shown in projected slides as the main points being talked about in a lecture. Many say that they are overused for this purpose, and I tend to agree. The can the the main actions required to be carried out or the key conclusions. In this guide they can easily stretch to a sentence and may drag over to a second line.

They do appear as whole paragraphs, but, unless there is a very strong reason given, I should be asking myself "is this really part of a list?".

But what is clear is that this is a matter of style rather than of grammar or semantics. The only way in which it is relevant to English Language usage is that the use of bullet points may for some purposes licence the use of sentence fragments. You are allowed to write things like:

  • Minds: physical or personal?
  • Souls: real or imagined?
  • Personal identity: a link to or separation from others?

Or it might be:-

In order to improve the quality of education, the school should:

  • ensure that safeguarding policies reflect the latest guidance and are consistently carried out;
  • repair the broken paving in the school courtyard and fence off the lake in the school grounds;
  • make sure that pupils with a talent for mathematics are sufficiently stimulated and stretched.

Note that in this case, the use of bullets does not licence the use of non-standard sentence structure, but signals that each point follows on from "...the school should" and a convention has been used by which each point but the last ends with a semi-colon, and the last ends with a full stop.

I have seen whole paragraphs, but, in such cases, the bullets rarely are needed. In some such cases, there may be a case for using numbers as 'bullets' with the purpose of ease of subsequent reference. But again, this is not really a matter of grammar or semantics.

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