Lists, Damned Lists, and How to Punctuate Them

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – Mark Twain (among others)14784640622_610f5b567e_o

Lists, especially enumerated lists, are a great way to ensure your ideas are properly emphasized. However, it can be hard to remember how to format these lists correctly. A part of the problem is that there are many forms these lists can take.

Hence, in this post, I run through these various list formats (according to the Chicago Manual of Style) in order from least to most emphasis on the list items.

Simple list of items in a sentence:

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

There is a comma after each item, and an “and” before the final item. The first list is introduced by a sentence fragment followed by a comma, and the second is introduced by a complete sentence followed by a colon.

Enumerated list of items in a sentence (a run-in list):

There are 1) lies, 2) damned lies, and 3) statistics.

There are three kinds of lies: 1) lies, 2) damned lies, and 3) statistics.

Note that despite the addition of the numbers, the punctuation remains the same.

Enumerated list of items set into the text:

There are:

  1. lies;
  2. damned lies;
  3. statistics.

There are three kinds of lies:

  1. Lies
  2. Damned lies
  3. Statistics

In the first list, where the list is not introduced by a complete sentence, the items are punctuated by semicolons or a period (for the final item). This style is not recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style. The preferred style is to introduce the list with a complete sentence followed by a semi-colon, as in the second example. In this style, the items are capitalized and there is no punctuation, not even for the final item.

Enumerated list of complete sentence items set into the text:

There are three kinds of lies:

  1. There are lies, which are bad.
  2. There are damned lies, which are worse.
  3. There are statistics, which are completely without any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

In this style, the list is introduced by a complete sentence followed by a colon, and each list items is capitalized and punctuated as a complete sentence.

To sum up, you have several choices when writing a list of items. All are correct, and your choice of format will depend on 1) the complexity of each item and 2) the amount of emphasis you wish to place on the items in the list.

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

There are 1) lies, 2) damned lies, and 3) statistics.

There are:

  1. lies;
  2. damned lies;
  3. statistics.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

There are three kinds of lies: 1) lies, 2) damned lies, and 3) statistics.

There are three kinds of lies:

  1. Lies
  2. Damned lies
  3. Statistics

There are three kinds of lies:

  1. There are lies, which are bad.
  2. There are damned lies, which are worse.
  3. There are statistics, which are completely without any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

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