The Penultimate Word

Bullet Frustration: Just Shoot Me!

Period or no period? Uppercase or lowercase? Include “and” or not? What’s the definitive answer on proper bullet usage? The popular Associated Press Stylebook won’t tell you; mainly because bullets are seldom (if ever) used in newspaper copy. The Chicago Manual of Style is also silent on the subject. I did, however, find some good advice in Lapsing into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print—and How to Avoid Them.*

In the book, the author, Bill Walsh (chief copy editor in the business section of the Washington Post), suggests:

  • Introduce bullets with a colon.
  • Begin with a capital letter and end with a period (even if the bulleted items aren’t complete sentences).
  • Do not insert “and” after the penultimate item.

Those are the guidelines that I follow, and they help me avoid awkward constructions such as this:

For the exam, you will need:

  • a calculator
  • #2 pencils.  Pens are not acceptable. [Awkward because this item contains capital letters and periods and none of the other items do.]
  • an eraser
  • a watch (optional)

* Walsh, Bill. Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print—and How to Avoid Them.  Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2000.

FREE Booklet on Marketing ROI

Measuring Marketing Success
Receive a FREE digital booklet on Marketing ROI...how to measure it, how to build it, and more! Sign up here to get your booklet.