The Grammar Factor: styles with lists, gender-neutral pronoun, tree failure

By Mary Morel | April 2016

Styles for bulleted lists

I’m sure we’ve all read documents that use different list styles within a few pages. I sometimes wonder if writers have copied and pasted material from elsewhere and forgotten to proofread it.

Some of the inconsistencies include:

  • Type of bullet point, e.g. round black, round hollow, dashes, arrows
  • Indentation – flush or indented
  • Punctuation, e.g. semicolons, initial lower case, initial capitals, final full stop or no end punctuation

The type of bullet point and indentation are style choices – what your organisation’s style guide says, or your personal preference if you don’t work for an organisation.

Punctuation with full-sentence lists
Full-sentence lists are the easiest. They are introduced with either a colon or full stop and each point has normal sentence punctuation.

Punctuation with run-on lists
In run-on lists, each point relates back to an introductory stem statement. Once upon a time, many of us probably used semicolons at the end of each point, then added ‘and’ to the second-to-last point and a full stop after the last point. Each point started with initial lower case.

This style is not common in business writing these days, and I don’t see commas used instead of semicolons as end punctuation.

The next style to evolve makes sense. Each point starts with an initial lower case and has no end punctuation apart from the last point, which has a full stop.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Word defaults to an initial capital, so many people started using initial capitals with a final full stop. Some people have dropped the final full stop because it looks odd.

No wonder we see so many different styles!

Which of the three following styles do you prefer?

In summary, you should:

  • introduce a run-on list with a colon
  • start each point with lower case
  • have a full stop after the final point.

In summary, you should:

  • Introduce a run-on list with a colon
  • Start each point with an initial capital
  • Have a full stop after the final point.

In summary, you should:

  • Introduce a run-on list with a colon
  • Start each point with an initial capital
  • Have no end punctuation

My online course, Styles for Business, is written for Australian and New Zealand small-business owners. Styles are important because they reflect your brand.

Initial capitals The influential US AP Stylebook  has recently decided that ‘internet’ and ‘web’ no longer need initial capitals.

Next month I will look at initial capitals – email me if you have an opinion on this topic.

Reader’s question

Question: What pronoun do we use for gender-neutral people? Thanks to Saga Noren in The Bridge, I know the Swedes have introduced ‘hen’ into their language.

Answer: I am mainly seeing the singular ‘they’ rather than any new pronouns being used. I wrote about the ‘singular they’ in a blog post.

Can anyone provide more information about this topic?


Spotted by a reader:

  • The office is in the final throws of preparation to launch…
  • The office called members to garnish support for …

I was watching a movie and spotted a wrong apostrophe: ‘Inventor’s conference’. If I’d trusted my grammar grumpiness, I would’ve stopped watching and not wasted two hours! (Apologies to anyone who liked Tomorrowland!)

Governance Institute workshops and a webinar

I am facilitating three workshops and a webinar with the Governance Institute of Australia in the next few months about templates, risk, and benchmarking your board pack.

The workshops are all in Sydney, but location doesn’t matter for the webinar (24 May).

Read more.

My blog and podcast

Having not written any blogs this year, I decided it was time I started again. I have also started podcasting.

Articles of interest

Making grammar fun for students in the classroom An interesting way to teach grammar is to analyse model sentences that work well. Read more.

J.K. Rowling advised to take a writing course Perseverance pays! Even for J.K. Rowling. Read more.

Naughty words ‘What makes swear words so offensive? It’s not their meaning or even their sound. Is language itself a red herring here?’ Read more.

Justin Bieber needs to improve his grammar In a letter that went viral, a primary school student lambasted Justin for not using the subjunctive. Read more.

Online dating: The word you should avoid at all costs If you’re looking for love online, do not use the word YOLO! (If like me, you’d never heard of YOLO, it stands for ‘you only live once’.) Read more.

Phrase of the month

tree failure
A sign in Hyde Park in Sydney:
‘For your safety we advise you to not visit the park during or just after heavy rain and strong winds because of the risk of tree failure.’
As quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 March with the caption, ‘They bough out?’

PS on ‘groyne’
Several readers thought ‘groyne’ was an acceptable word for a sign because:

  • We shouldn’t dumb down the language
  • It’s an accurate term
  • Many people would know the word – there are lots of groynes in the UK

Quote of the month

‘Half my life is an act of revision.’ US author John Irving


online grammar
Copyright © 2020 All Rights Reserved

Design by mel andersonWordPress website audit by The WP Guy