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When writing bulleted items, what are the rules for placing periods? Presumably bulleted items that aren't sentences wouldn't require punctuation:

  • Orange
  • Apple
  • Banana

But how about sentence bullets?

  • I am happy
  • She was happy
  • He is happy still

Should that be:

  • I am happy.
  • She was happy.
  • He is happy still?

And how do I distinguish between cases? What happens if there are multiple sentences per bullet?

Update: This is actually going to be published from a corporate website, so the house rules are less clearly defined in that case, but I think that is a great point regardless.

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Is this more of an English SE question than a Writers SE question? –  Andrew Grimm Apr 6 '11 at 3:30
    
People who speak other languages may also have this doubt (my case) :) - unless it has some specific norm or rule concerning English –  ClayKaboom Aug 25 '12 at 20:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I like to use periods with full-sentence bullets, but it depends on the house style of wherever you're submitting your writing. My only caveat is that if you have a list where some items are full sentences and some are not, you have to be consistent: either they all get periods (even the phrases or single words) or they all don't (even the full sentences).

If there are multiple sentences per bullet, I would end the final one with a period (or whatever the appropriate punctuation is), and if it's house style not to, I would ask the person to whom I'm submitting it how s/he wants you to handle that instance.

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Thanks for the feedback. I will be going with a period after each sentence. I think it makes the most sense at this point. –  automatonic Apr 5 '11 at 19:55

There are a number of ways I've seen this done.

For single word items, I suggest either use no punctuation, or use semi-colons, with a period for the last item. For example:

  • Apples;
  • Pears;
  • Oranges.

You could use the same type of structure for sentences as well:

  • I am happy;
  • She was happy;
  • He is happy still.

Alternatively, use full punctuation for single sentences.

Likewise, if each bullet is more than just one sentence, then I would follow full punctuation rules, since it's quite clear that I'm using bullet points for a very complicated list of items.

Having said that, however, as Lauren says, it's best to ask for the house rules first. And the number one rule is: be consistent in whatever you choose.

Edit: I found this article which you may find helpful: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/formatting-vertical-lists.aspx

Most of the article is based on a book called the "Chicago Manual of Style". I won't duplicate what is written there, but it is extremely comprehensive. Also, it's worth pointing out that, while the writer doesn't like the usage of semi-colons, in a footnote she says, 'commas are optional in some lists and allows the conjunction and after the penultimate list item if you are using semicolons at the end of each list item and closing the last item with terminal punctuation'.

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+1 for the point about it being more important to be consistent. I think I will go with periods for all my sentence bullets. Thanks for the feedback. –  automatonic Apr 5 '11 at 19:56
    
Cool. Btw, edited my answer to give you a link to a rather comprehensive exploration on the topic. Glad I could help. –  Craig Sefton Apr 5 '11 at 19:57
1  
The virtue of this style is that it is a possible approach to punctuating the list inline inside a single sentence (e.g., "For example: (a) Apples; (b) Oranges; (c) Pears.") But note that this is a minority approach. Chicago is the most important scholarly style guide. –  Charles Stewart Apr 7 '11 at 10:38

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