Monday, November 30, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: List It Out

Black Friday may be a distant memory, three days in the past, but considering the month of December is already upon us, the list of things that must be done for the holiday season is only growing longer and longer. If for any reason your text requires you to make a list, don't forget to check it (twice) according to the rules of Chicago.

All items in a list should be syntactically alike, whether they utilize noun forms, phrases, full sentences, or whatever is required by the context. Numerals or letters do not have to be used unless they will serve a purpose (to indicate order, importance, or to more clearly separate items). Lists may be made in one of two ways: either run into the text or set vertically in outline style.

Shorter and simpler lists are better in-text, especially if the items form a complete grammatical sentence with their introduction. As in, In her letter to Santa she asked for a teddy bear, roller skates, and blue hair ribbons. In other cases, the items in a list may be separated by numerals or letters, and these divisional markings should be enclosed in parenthesis. "No punctuation precedes the first parenthesis if the last word of the introductory material is a verb or a preposition. If the introdcutory material is an independent clause, a colon should precede the first parenthesis. The department store used three signature items for gift-wrapping all items for their customers: (1) silver tissue paper, (2) blue wrapping paper with silver stars, and (3) silver curling ribbon. Items in the list should be separated by commas, with the comma preceding the following number or letter; however, if any of the items require internal commas, the items should be separated by semicolons.

If a list is extremely long or if each item in a list consists of a complete sentence or several sentences, then it is best to set the list vertically. These lists are still best introduced with a complete sentence, followed by a colon. Only use closing punctuation in each item if each item is numbered or requires multiple sentences. If items are longer than one line, indent the second line to align with the first word (following the number). Shorter and skinnier items can be divided into two columns to save space. Sometimes bullets may be used as clear markings for unnumbered lists, but if used too often, they lose their force. Either of the examples above could be set in a vertical list, especially if the list grew longer, or more explanation was necessary for each new item. Other examples of strong vertical lists include shopping lists or directions.

Lists are good ways of presenting information and reminding us of what needs to be done. But we all know the best part of making a list is getting to check items off!

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