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I'm in despair... I have a very good grasp of how to write bullet lists in my own language (there is one single set of rules that should always be used), and I've just assumed the rules are the same in English – until yesterday, when I had this crazy idea of actually checking... Now I've spent hours and hours trying to make sense of the many different rules and recommendations – it seems there are almost as many different "schools" as there are writers, when it comes to how to write bullet lists in English.

So, my question is simply this: If I don't have a specific style guide that I'm told to follow, does it matter exactly how I do it, as long as I'm consistent, and as long as it makes resaonable sense? Or, put another way: would the following examples of bullet lists be acceptable to native speakers of English:

Ex 1: (no punctuation; lower-case letters – used with short list items that are a direct continuation of the "list opener" (for lack of a better term))

If you're going mushroom-picking, be sure to bring

  • a small knife
  • a decent-sized basket
  • a torch

Ex 2: (colon, but no punctuation after list items; lower-case letters – used when the list opener is an independent sentence, followed by short list items)

If you're going mushroom-picking, you should bring the following:

  • a small knife
  • a decent-sized basket
  • a torch

Ex 3: (punctuation throughout, and upper-case for list items – used when the list opener is an independent sentence, and the list items are full, independent sentences as well)

If you're going mushroom-picking, there are a number of things to keep in mind:

  • A small knife can be very useful.
  • A decent-sized basket to collect the mushrooms in will be better than a plastic bag.
  • A torch is a must if you go mushroom-picking after dark.

Ex 4: (no colon, but punctuation in list; lower-case on list items – used when the list items complete the list opener, and are more than just words or very short phrases)

If you're going mushroom-picking, you should

  • always bring a small knife;
  • use a decent-sized basket rather than a plastic bag to collect the mushrooms; and
  • bring a torch if you're going after dark.

What say you? Would this be acceptable?

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    All four versions would be perfectly acceptable. Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 15:28
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    Ex 4 looks klunky to me. All the others are fine, though. Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 17:32
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    I don't like example 3 at all. Each bullet point starts with a capital letter and ends with a period, but none of them are sentences because they follow a colon. I would never capitalize bullet points nor end them with periods. IMO, bullet points are best thought of as lists within one sentence, reformatted for readability, so formatting each bullet point as a sentence itself is wrong.
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 17:44
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    I'll disagree with FF and gotube. There's no need for "rules" here. All four are perfectly acceptable.
    – James K
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 18:05
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    I Agree with @JamesK. If you aren't trying to follow any particular style guide, write your bullet lists however you want. Lists like these are usually pretty informal, and I doubt anyone would really bat an eye reading any one of them.
    – Mordred
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 18:58

1 Answer 1

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Each of your example forms 1-4 would be acceptable, and so would other variations. I would use a colon on your numbers 1 and 4. I would use semi-colons on numbers 1 and 2, and probably start each item with a capital in 2. There are also forms in which each list item contains multiple sentences, this is most often done as something like your number 3.

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    Gave you a thumb-up The only thing I would add is, look for a local style guide. How does your office, school, etc., want these things done? How do other documents from your locality have lists formatted. It's somewhat cultural.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 2:50
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    @ Dan I didn't mention that because the question specifically says: "If I don't have a specific style guide that I'm told to follow," Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 2:53
  • @Dan Like David says, I don't have a specific style guide, since in my country there is just one accepted way of doing it (viz the way I do it in my OP), which everyone is expected to adhere to. I'm often asked in my work to translate things into English though, and so it struck me that perhaps there are other rules in English...
    – Helen
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 18:36
  • "How do other documents..." Yeah, somebody said that, but I don't know where.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 19:34

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