Re: initial caps in steps and bulleted lists

Subject: Re: initial caps in steps and bulleted lists
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: Laurie Little <llittle -at- idirect -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2000 16:59:53 -0400

Laurie Little wrote:
> I'm reviewing a set of documents, and keep encountering the same issue.
> The writer uses a partial sentence to introduce a list, then treats each
> bullet/step as a continuance of this sentence; i.e. each starts with
> lowercase.
> To do ..., you should:
> * do this, then do that. If you do the other thing, ...
> * seek counsel. Otherwise, ...
> * ask for help on techwr-l. You'll find the answers there. But be sure to
> check the archives first!
> Shouldn't the bullet/step then be treated as any other paragraph, and start
> with uppercase?
Is this just a matter of preference, as
> long as it's used consistently, or is there a grammatical rule?

The meta-answer is your first one: it's a matter of preference as long
as it is used consistently. However, what I've settled on, i.e., my
preference, which may differ from yours, is this:

First, I eliminate the lead-in colon, as the list structure provides
sufficient marking. (If this were a paragraph, the colon would stay. And
I do leave the colon in constructions like the present one, where the
lead-in is a complete sentence.)

Second, I put an initial cap on EVERY bulleted item (unless some oddly
intercapped trademark is involved, of course), even though the list
items are fragments.

Third, I insist that all items in a given list be complete sentences and
end with a period or be fragments and end without a period. No mixing

Faced with the situation you are in, I may recast the lead-in and then
rewrite all list items as sentences or paragraphs. If that seems
inappropriate, I change the period-space-cap to
semicolon-space-lowercase. So, in your example, the list would read as

To do ..., you should
* Do this, then do that; if you do the other thing, ...
* Seek counsel; otherwise, ...
* Ask for help on techwr-l; you'll find the answers there; but be sure
check the archives first!

This approach works best when there is only one list item that runs on
with an explanation. The former approach (recasting as sentences) would
work better in this case.

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