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March 02, 2010

Lists, Part 5: Bulleted Lists

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

This is the fifth in a six-part series about lists. Today I’ll discuss bulleted lists, which are new to APA Style!

Bulleted Lists

As the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association notes (p. 63), creating a list sometimes “helps the reader understand the organization of key points.” And although numbered lists are useful, in some cases the numbers may imply a chronology or ranking of importance that you don’t intend. Thus, I’m happy to share that bulleted lists are now an official part of APA Style (pp. 64–65)!

Bulleted lists allow a writer to create a list that stands out from the text without the implied chronology or order of importance that a numbered list might convey. Any symbol may be used for the bullets, although small circles or squares are typical software defaults. Here again, when full sentences are used, the first words should be capitalized and appropriate end punctuation should be included.

●  Each child received one plush toy.
●  Some toys were familiar to the children from their experiences in Experiment
    1. In Experiment 1, all children could see but not touch the plush elephant.
    Also in Experiment 1, half of the children could see but not touch the plush
    kangaroo, whereas the other half of the children could both see and touch
    the plush kangaroo.
●  One toy, a plush giraffe, was unique to Experiment 2.

(Note that although we single-space examples in the blog, you should double-space lists in an APA Style manuscript just as you would regular text.)

Bulleted Lists Within Sentences

In the example above, I used full sentences. But, you can also use bulleted lists within a sentence. When you do so, capitalize and punctuate throughout the list just as you would in any sentence. For example, in the following list, note the commas following the first two items, the conjunction “and” included with the second-to-last item, the lowercase used for each item in the list, and the end punctuation with the last item.

Each child was seated at a separate station and given
●  an elephant,
●  a kangaroo, and
●  a giraffe.

And remember that the rule for semicolons when items have internal commas is still applicable:

Each child was seated at a separate station and given
●  an elephant, which all children could see but not touch in Experiment 1;
●  a kangaroo, which half of the children could see but not touch and half of the
    children could both see and touch in Experiment 1; and
●  a giraffe, which was new to all children in this experiment.

A Caveat

Bulleted lists can be effective, but be sure to use them judiciously. Just as with numbered lists, by virtue of their formatting, bulleted lists are likely to draw a reader’s attention away from the running text. Too many bulleted lists in your paper may be visually distracting for a reader. You don’t want each page of your paper to look like a PowerPoint presentation!

There may also be differences in opinion about whether bulleted lists are appropriate for technical articles, dissertations, class assignments, and other types of writing. What do you think? Are you a list maker?

More to Come

In Part 6 of this series, we’ll provide an overview of good uses for each type of list.

Lists, Part 1  |  Lists, Part 2  |  Lists, Part 3

Lists, Part 4  |  Lists, Part 5  |  Lists, Part 6


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