TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Punctuating the end of bullet points? From:Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca> To:TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, T K <tvk_tw -at- yahoo -dot- ie> Date:Wed, 03 May 2006 17:09:18 -0400
T K wondered: <<I have a question in relation to punctuation at the end
of bullet points. It is my understanding that there are a few options
for such punctuation: 1) no punctuation at all 2) use a semi-colon3)
use a period>>
As you noted, you can use any option so long as you're consistent
within a list and (ideally) within a publication. I say "ideally" in
the latter case because only a bored editor will ever compare lists in
different parts of a publication to see if they're parallel. Readers
will never notice or care in most cases.
However, it pays to learn the difference between consistency and
_foolish_ consistency*. If some of your bullets are grammatically
complete sentences, whyever would you delete the terminal punctuation
"just to be consistent"? Doesn't make much sense.
* “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by
little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson in
<<My question concerns the option when no punctuation is used. What
should one do if the content of the bullet point has more than one
sentence? Obviously with more than one sentence there will be a period
at the end of any preceding sentences. It would then seem incorrect
to not have a period at the end of the final sentence in the bullet
Ah, you've discovered the problem with _foolish_ consistency. <g> The
general solution is to ensure that all components of a given bulleted
list are parallel: they should all be grammatically complete sentences,
which take normal punctuation because such sentences must follow the
usual rules of grammar, or they should all be sentence fragments; the
latter don't follow the normal rules of grammar (they're not real
sentences!) and thus, it makes little sense to punctuate them. After
all, if you break the more important rules of grammar (that sentences
should be grammatically complete), why would you honor the less
List should be parallel because if they're not, you confuse people.
What is the poor reader to make of a list in which half the items start
with imperative verbs, the other half start with gerunds, and the other
other half are complete sentences?
<<For example, if a styleguide dictates that there will be no
punctuation at the end of bullet points what happens for bullet points
where there are multiple sentences?>>
That's where you take a step back and recognize that in an attempt to
simplify things, the author of the style guide went too far,
oversimplified, and created a nonsensical situation. You then have two
choices: modify the style guide, or make a conscious decision to ignore
the style guide. The latter option is important: after all, it's a
***guide***, not a book of law. The only reason to use a style guide is
to benefit from the experience of other people who have developed good
solutions for a range of situations. Where the solutions don't fit your
specific situation, develop a new solution. You'd be amazed at how
often people need to be reminded of this distinction.
WebWorks ePublisher Pro for Word features support for every major Help
format plus PDF, HTML and more. Flexible, precise, and efficient content
delivery. Try it today!. http://www.webworks.com/techwr-l