How to Write a List in an Essay

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Often essays incorporate lists that pose challenges to manuscript design, paragraph structure and grammar. However, readers quickly grasp your point when you list subtopics or themes; assessment checklists; complicated lists of recommendations; steps in process analysis; or component parts of an item.

Key aids in composing lists are punctuation and parallelism in grammar.

Introduce the list with an independent clause or a sentence with a colon before the list. In punctuation, the colon signals that a long list follows. If the list contains a series of one-word items, separate items with commas. If the list requires more separation between items, use semicolons to separate individual items of more than three words and items that contain commas.

  • Often essays incorporate lists that pose challenges to manuscript design, paragraph structure and grammar.
  • If the list requires more separation between items, use semicolons to separate individual items of more than three words and items that contain commas.

Set off a short list from the rest of a sentence with a dash, an informal punctuation mark that also often marks a sudden or dramatic change. Example: All eyes share common features --- optic nerves, retinas and pupils. Use dashes sparingly in a formal essay. If you have to choose between using a dash and using a colon before a short list, use a colon. A dash has much in common with a T-shirt; neither signals high style.

Write an introductory sentence for steps in a sequence. Use numerals followed by periods for each step. Example:

  • Set off a short list from the rest of a sentence with a dash, an informal punctuation mark that also often marks a sudden or dramatic change.

To bake a cake:

  1. Assemble ingredients

  2. Preheat oven

  3. Grease cake pans.

Use bullets to list items when order is unimportant. As always, provide a sentence to introduce the list to follow. Bulleted lists must warrant the use of space, meaning do not use bullets for a list of two to four small items. The reader may assume you are wasting space to make your essay appear longer.

  • Assemble ingredients

    2.
  • Grease cake pans.

    Use bullets to list items when order is unimportant.
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