Bullet points are more commonly used than numbers in lists, but numbers are useful if the order matters or if you want to refer to specific points within the list.
Lists with full sentences
With lists that are made up of full sentences, use normal sentence punctuation. Most introductory statements before full-sentence lists end in a colon ( : ).
Lists with points relating to a stem statement
There are a few different styles for lists where each bullet point relates back to an initial statement, known as a stem statement. All such lists are introduced with a colon at the end of the stem statement.
Semicolons were traditionally used at the end of points in such lists, but they are seldom used in business writing today. They are still used in many legal documents.
If you do use semicolons, the accepted practice, as in this list, is to:
- start each point with lower case unless the word is a proper noun;
- put a semicolon at the end of each point;
- use ‘and’ after the second-to-last point; and
- finish with a full stop.
Punctuation is more minimal these days, so the next style to evolve that is still commonly used is to:
- start each point with initial lower case
- have no punctuation at the end of all points except the last one
- put a full stop at the end of the final point.
Because Microsoft automatically defaults to an initial capital, many people now start lists with initial capitals. Some people keep the final full stop, and others have no final punctuation. (Online Writing Training uses initial capitals and no final full stop.)
Adding extra information to lists
When you want to add extra information to a bullet point, you need to think about your punctuation. While it is acceptable to have an additional sentence with no full stop, it looks odd.
Consider using a dash before the additional information, putting the extra information in brackets, or adding the extra information to the last point.
Grammar and style
Make sure each point relates grammatically to the stem statement. You should be able to read each point with the stem statement and it forms a sentence.
Whatever style you choose for lists, you need to be consistent with indentation and the type of bullet points you use.