15 Lists and tables

15.1 Lists

15.1.1 General principles

Lists arrange related elements of text in a linear, structured form. Lists may be displayed or run into text; their characteristics are explicit when they are displayed (see 15.1.4), but should be no less rigorously applied when they are embedded in the text (see 15.1.3). Lists may be broken across pages, whereas most tables should not be broken unless their size makes a break unavoidable.

15.1.2 Arrangement of items

Regardless of presentation, the text should make it clear what the elements of a list have in common. An open-ended list should specify at least three items, which are sufficiently similar to show how the list might continue: French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. A list comprising examples introduced by includes, for example, or such as should not end tautologically in etc.

Lists should be grammatically consistent and balanced—for example, the zookeeper fed the elephant, a lion, and llamas unsettles the reader because it is inconsistent in its use (or lack) of articles. Depending on context and emphasis, the first item alone may have an article (what colours are the legs, eyes, and bill?), all the items may have no article (deciduous trees include oak, ash, sycamore, and maple), or the article for each item may be repeated to emphasize its separateness:

The government does not yet appear to have given much consideration to balancing the needs of the research community, the taxpayer, and the commercial sectors, for which it is responsible.
A list that is very complex, or just very long, may need to be broken off and displayed (see 15.1.4).

15.1.3 Lists in running text

A list occurring as part of a sentence or sentences (a run-on or in-text list) follows the same rules governing any other sentence. If a colon is used to warn the reader that a list comes next, the introduction should be a main clause:

The product range expanded to include the following: soluble junior aspirin, gripe mixture, specially formulated children’s shampoo and formulations for adults to relieve the symptoms of feverish cold, influenza, irritating coughs and stomach upsets.

Rearranged as The product range expanded to include soluble junior aspirin, gripe mixture etc.), a colon should not be used as The product range expanded to include is an incomplete sentence.

A straightforward list within a single sentence needs no numbers or letters to aid the reader:

Rabbits are divided into four kinds, known as warreners, parkers, hedgehogs, and sweethearts

House style will dictate whether the serial, or Oxford, comma (see 4.3.5) is used before the final list item; in the examples below, the first has it, the second does not:

Markets are held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday
A bridge provides passage over obstacles such as rivers, valleys, roads and railways

It is usually acceptable to arrange into lists information where each element has only a few simple components, so long as these are treated unambiguously; notice in the following example that each element has the same structure:

Animals with specific medical problems that may be helped by special diets, for example renal disease (restricted protein and phosphorus), inflammatory bowel disease (select protein, limited antigen), or diabetes mellitus (high fibre), should be fed the most appropriate diet for their condition.

For a discussion of the use of commas and semicolons in run-on lists see 4.4 and 4.5.

Information in many run-on lists may equally be displayed (see below).

15.1.4 Displayed lists

There are three kinds of displayed list: lists marked by numbers or letters, lists with bulleted points, and simple lists with no markers. The purpose of a display is to draw the reader’s attention and to make the material easy to find, consult, and digest; displaying also has the effect of breaking up the text. It is important to establish an underlying logic that determines whether lists are run on or displayed.

The introduction is usually a partial sentence finishing with a colon:

An advertisement from this period promotes Fennings’ Ointment for:
• abrasions, abscesses, aching feet
• blotches, bruises, burns, boils
• chapped hands, chilblains, cuts

Opinions differ as to whether it is permissible to split an infinitive around a colon; Oxford style allows it, as here:

The committee’s overarching recommendations were to:
• improve daily conditions
• tackle the inequitable distribution of money, power, and resources
• measure and understand the causes

the alternative being to repeat ‘to’ for each item (to improve, to tackle, to measure).

End punctuation may vary: full points if list items are sentences; commas or semicolons at the discretion of author or editor (usually none); full point or no full point at the end of the last item. It is worth bearing in mind that if there is no full point at the end of a list, screen-reading software will continue to read the next paragraph as though it were part of the final list point. Omit ‘and’ and ‘or’ at the end of the penultimate point in a displayed list.

The preceding sentence can end with a full point or a colon (but no dash). Items that are complete sentences generally start with capitals and end in full points:

  • • Fino is a pale and delicate dry sherry of medium alcohol that is best drunk well chilled as an aperitif.

  • • Manzanilla is a very dry fino, considered to be the best, and is only produced in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on the coast.

  • • Amontillado is nuttier and fuller-bodied than the fino, between 17 and 18 degrees of alcohol.

  • • Oloroso is darker and more fragrant, containing between 18 and 20 degrees of alcohol.

  • • Cream sherries are sweeter and range from the lighter-tasting pale creams to the darker and velvety varieties that make a great after-dinner drink.

  • • Palo Cortado is a cross between an oloroso and an amontillado, and is very rare as it occurs spontaneously in only a small percentage of fino barrels when the yeast does not form properly.

Sentence fragments are usually lower case, with no end punctuation; the final item may or may not consistently take a full point. In this example, it does: Legislation will be effective only if it is:

  • • closely monitored

  • • comprehensive

  • • strictly enforced.

Where possible, choose a system and stick to it; if necessary, reword the stem or list items to conform to your choice. However, in a publication with many diverse lists it may be better to allow both types (complete and fragmentary sentences) rather than to impose an artificial uniformity—but avoid mixing both types in one list.

15.1.5 Numbers, letters, and bullets

When elements of a list are cited in text, or when it is desirable to show the order or hierarchy of the points being made, numbering the items clarifies the sense. Letters or numbers in italic or roman may be used in run-on or displayed lists. In run-on lists lower-case letters or Roman numerals are often used; they should be in parentheses: Problem-solving helps to: (a) define the problem; (b) divide it into manageable parts; (c) provide alternative solutions; (d) select the best solution; and (e) carry it out and examine the result.

In displayed lists numbers are often used; they may be in roman or bold, with or without a following point, depending on the design decisions made:

  • 1 . Activities and action happen extremely quickly when in a product-recall situation. It is suggested that a number of blank copies of the product-recall coordinator’s log be held, allowing data to be recorded directly on to this document.

  • 2 . The log is a key document and it is extremely important that it is maintained at all stages during the product-recall process.

  • 3 . Information in the log must be accurate, clear, and concise.

  • 4 . In the product-recall coordinator’s absence the log’s continued maintenance must be given priority by the Incident Management Team.

  • There are no hard-and-fast rules about the sequence of number styles in lists of more than one level. In Oxford style Arabic numbers at the first level are followed by italic lower-case letters in parentheses, followed by lower-case Roman numerals in parentheses—1 (a) (i) (ii) (iii) (b) (i) (ii) (iii) 2 (a) (i) (ii) (iii) (b) (i) (ii) (iii), etc. But a hierarchy that ran 1 (i) (a) (b) (c) (ii) (a) (b) (c), etc., would be no less acceptable. More complex lists might require, in addition, upper-case letters and Roman numerals above the Arabic numerals in the hierarchy. Numbered sections and subsections are discussed in 1.3.5 and 1.3.6.

    If there is no reason for items to be hierarchical, a typographical symbol such as a bullet is used: The moons closest to Jupiter are:

    • • Metis

    • • Adrastea

    • • Amalthea

    • • Thebe

    • • Io

    • • Europa

    Bullets may be ranged left or indented, with an en space separating them from the item. Each typeface has a standard bullet size, so there is normally no need to specify this.

    15.1.6 Simple lists

    Material may also be displayed in simple lists with neither numbers nor bullets:


    arrive at meeting point


    coach leaves


    motorway stop (20 minutes)


    arrival at destination


    lunch in the picnic area


    return to coach


    coach departs for home


    motorway stop (20 minutes)


    arrive home.

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