Using Bullet Points: Correct Use of Commas and Periods with Bulleted Lists

Using Bullet Points: Correct Use of Commas and Periods with Bulleted Lists
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Bulleted Lists

Bulleted lists are a means of providing information in an organized list format. Each item in the list is presented with a circle or other shape before it, allowing the items to be presented in any logical order (as opposed to a numbered list, where the numbers impose the idea of a numerical order on the items.) Because the items don’t need to be in a particular order, these lists are sometimes referred to as “unordered lists” as well. In order to create attractive bulleted lists, however, it’s important that a few stylistic points are followed; the correct use of commas and periods in bulleted lists help to pace the reading of the list, for example.

Image credit: Screenshot by J. Edward Casteele

Proper Bulleted List Format

Bulleted lists are formatted with a series of “bullet” points, so called because they are typically represented with a black dot similar to a bullet hole. Other shapes can be used as well, however, and can appear either filled or as outlines. A typical bulleted list looks like this:

  • First item in the list
  • Second item in the list
  • Third item in the list

Bulleted lists may have a description preceding them (such as the opening paragraph above the example) or may simply be given a title to indicate what the list represents. The correct use of commas and periods with a bulleted list may vary slightly depending on the way that the list is presented, but there are a few basic rules that should be followed.

Comma Usage

If using commas with bulleted lists, they should be used only when list items call for them. They should not be used to introduce a bulleted list (a colon is the most appropriate punctuation for introducing the list.) If multiple items are being presented in a single bullet point, commas should be used as appropriate according to grammar rules. Commas may also be used where needed in any bulleted list that is being presented in sentence structure.

An example of comma usage with multiple items per bullet point:

  • apples, oranges and other fruit
  • dogs, cats and other animals
  • roses, daisies and other flowers

An example of comma usage with sentence structure:

  • Guests should enjoy our fruit offerings, as they are always fresh-picked.
  • Guests should visit our petting zoo, home to a number of domesticated animals.
  • Guests should tour our flower garden, filled with fragrant roses and other flowers.

Period Usage

The use of periods with bulleted lists also follows grammar rules, though only when the items on the list are presented in complete sentences. Bulleted lists that present list items in the form of single words or short phrases should not use periods. Lists should be structured as either using sentences throughout or not; they should not mix and match these two options. When sentences are used, however, more than one sentence can be placed in a bullet point.

An example of period usage in a bulleted list:

  • Chocolate chip cookies are made daily on-site.
  • Peanut butter cookies are made three times a week. These cookies are made on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
  • Double chocolate chip cookies are made on Fridays only.