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Lists can help you organize information and present it economically. The goal of any list is to help readers easily understand information. Over using lists, however, can have the opposite effect, making prose difficult to follow. Lists can be incorporated into your prose or set vertically. They can be numbered when enumeration is essential to your point.

It is preferable to integrate lists into your prose, rather than to set them vertically, whenever the information can be readily understood in this format. A colon is often used to introduce an integrated list unless the list is grammatically essential to the introductory wording—for example, when the list is the object of the verb that introduces it, as in the second example below (where the list is the object of the verb include). Punctuate items in an unnumbered, integrated list just as you would words in a sentence.

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written four books of fiction: Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing around Your Neck, and Americanah.

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books of fiction include Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and The Thing around Your Neck.

Numerals in lists in your prose should be enclosed in parentheses.

The workshop will walk students through five key stages in the research process: (1) selecting a topic, (2) searching for sources, (3) evaluating sources, (4) reading and taking notes from relevant sources, and (5) refining the topic.

Serial commas with lists: 2.12. Semicolons with lists: 2.26. Colons to introduce lists: 2.27.

Vertical lists are best used when the information presented is lengthy, has many component parts, or benefits from being set apart from the main prose. Below are examples of vertical lists—which may be unnumbered, numbered, or bulleted—and how to introduce, punctuate, and capitalize them. Word processing programs automatically define styles for lists so that they are indented and thus clearly distinguished from the text and so that each item in the list forms a unit.

A list may be introduced with a complete sentence followed by a colon, as in the examples below. The items in the list can be composed of complete sentences or fragments but should be consistent in using one or the other.

If the list items are complete sentences, the first letter of the first word of each item should be capitalized, and the item should be followed by closing punctuation, such as a period or question mark.

Students were asked to address one of the following questions in their group presentation:

  • What signs of the ancien régime continue to influence the social mores of characters in the novel?

  • How is realism evinced in the novel, and when does the novel retreat from realism?

  • How are workers depicted in the novel’s urban scenes?

  • How do the moments of magical realism in the novel relate to the subplot of the dictator’s coup?

In bulleted lists, elements begin with a lowercase letter (unless the first word is normally capitalized, such as a proper noun), and no punctuation follows list elements unless they are composed of a full sentence.

The MLA Style Center (style.mla.org), a free companion to the MLA Handbook, is the only official website devoted to MLA style and provides a number of useful features:

  • the opportunity to submit questions about MLA style

  • sample research papers

  • teaching resources

  • tools for creating works-cited-list entries

If the list items are not complete sentences and the list is not bulleted, then, whether the list is numbered or not, begin each item with a lowercase letter and punctuate the fragments like parts of a sentence. Use semicolons between the list items and write and or or before the final item. A period should conclude the list.

The specific contexts influencing the author’s work fall into four main areas:

  1. ideas about free will and the change and mutability that attend human decision-making, derived from Boethius;

  2. teachings about the importance of translating the Bible into English;

  3. humanism’s founding precepts and, especially, the writings of Petrarch; and

  4. the political insurrection that took place as a result of heavy taxation to continue funding of the Hundred Years’ War.

A list may also start with a sentence continued in the list, as shown in the examples below. No colon should appear before such lists. In most cases, list items continuing the sentence introducing them will not be complete sentences, and each item can therefore begin with a lowercase letter.

In formal contexts, you may punctuate the fragments in numbered and unnumbered lists like parts of a sentence. Use semicolons between the list items and write and or or before the final item. A period should conclude the list.

The campus health clinic is expanding its advocacy efforts by

  • launching a twenty-four-hour care hotline;

  • developing strategic partnerships with community health care providers; and

  • running a website that provides reliable, up-to-date health information, mental health resources, nutritional advice, and more.

In bulleted lists, elements begin with a lowercase letter (unless the first word is normally capitalized, such as a proper noun), and no punctuation follows list elements unless they are composed of a full sentence.

A free companion to the MLA Handbook and the only official website devoted to MLA style, The MLA Style Center (style.mla.org) provides

  • the opportunity to submit questions about MLA style

  • sample research papers

  • teaching resources

  • tools for creating works-cited-list entries

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