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I have a paragraph like below:

A hypothetical solution is like this: first, we can use a table to record entries. These entries are imported from a library. . .....

Basically, this paragraph is to talk about a solution. After the colon :, I have several sentences, and I'm at a loss on how to choose punctuations. If I use a : as in the example, then it seems like the solution is just this sentence: first, we can use a table to record entries., because there is a . after entries.

How can I organize such a paragraph? Thanks!

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Don't worry about the punctuation. Worry about why you've included the word "like" in the first sentence, and whether or not native speakers would find that acceptable in formal texts. –  FumbleFingers May 29 '13 at 17:43
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Why oppose simultaneous worrying? It is actually quite common and often useful. –  GetzelR May 29 '13 at 17:54
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You should simply use a full stop after "this": that is the typical/conventional solution. You would only use a colon if what follows can be written as (the continuation of) a single sentence, so a list separated by commas or semicolons; but this is not possible in your example, apparently. –  Cerberus May 29 '13 at 19:25
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@Cerberus I disagree. The way this particular sentence is phrased lends itself much more to a colon. I'd trip over a full stop there. –  Lauren Ipsum May 30 '13 at 10:04
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I don't see a problem with "like" here. He wants to make clear that this is not the only possible solution, but simply a pattern or general idea for a solution. In such a case to say "the solution is ..." would be inaccurate. –  Jay May 30 '13 at 13:28
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3 Answers

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This is fine as written, so long as later in the section you have Second and Third or Last and so forth. I'd make each numbered item a separate paragraph, regardless of length, so it's easier to follow the steps.

A hypothetical solution might be set up like this: first, we can use a table to record entries. These entries are imported from a library or a database. A spreadsheet program is easiest for data manipulation.

Second, we sort the entries according to the number of ninjas. This will be useful when creating sorties.

Third, we add rows for Vampires (Sparkly), Vampires (Non-Sparkly), Sharks, Starfleet Officers, and Other. We'll fill in that data as appropriate. We can add columns for whatever weaponry everyone is carrying, so the sorties will have balanced offensive and defensive skill sets.

Fourth, we establish commanders for our sorties, and give each division a cool name and a logo.

Finally, we summon our forces, hand out sortie assignments, and unleash them against the invading enemy.

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There is no question here. You are setting out to describe a solution or process in steps. A series of sentences ending with periods is a perfectly legitimate way to do that. There will be no confusion where the process ends because the reader will continue until the content suggests the solution is complete. Also, you have written 'First,' which will suggest to the reader there is more to the solution if he for some reason wanted to stop after the first sentence.

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I haven't checked what the classic style guides say on this, but my personal practice is that in such cases, I capitalize what comes after the colon. If each "point" is long enough to be its own paragraph, then I make the first one its own paragraph also. Like:

A hypothetical solution might be set up like this:

First, we can use a table to record entries. These entries are imported from a library or a database. A spreadsheet program is easiest for data manipulation.

Second, we sort the entries according to the number of ninjas. This will be useful when creating sorties.

Etc.

If the entries are short enough to all be in one paragraph, I still capitalize the first one:

A hypothetical solution might be set up like this: First, we can use a table to record entries. Second, we sort the entries according to the number of ninjas. Third, etc.

Capitalizing, and possibly making a separate paragraph for, the first entry creates a parallel construct with all the other entries.

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This is what I do unless a house style dictates otherwise. To my perhaps-overly-logical brain, all the steps need to have the same "weight", and "intro: first..." but "Second..." makes me do a little double-take. Similarly, if they're separate paragraphs, they all need to be to avoid that reaction; appending the intro to the first paragraph is the same problem. –  Monica Cellio May 30 '13 at 16:12
    
@MonicaCellio I agree with your perception of weight. I think it depends on the actual content whether I would break out "First" into its own paragraph or not. –  Lauren Ipsum May 30 '13 at 18:57
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