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MLA Formatting Lists 

Note: This page is new and reflects added guidance published in the latest version of the MLA Handbook (i.e., MLA 9).

Though they should be used sparingly, lists are a great way to convey information in an easily digestible and recognizable format. Lists are either integrated into the prose or set vertically, dependent on the list’s purpose and the amount of information presented.

 

INTEGRATED INTO THE PROSE

 Lists that are integrated into the text can be introduced by text itself:

 

        Baldwin was known for his astute sociological observations, meticulously crafted sentences, and decidedly metropolitan dialogue.

 

Or they can be introduced with a colon:

 

       Baldwin was known, mainly, for three things: his astute sociological observations, meticulously crafted sentences, and decidedly metropolitan dialogue.

 

SET VERTICALLY

 There are a number of ways to properly format a vertically set list. Numbered lists should only be used when the nature of the list necessitates a specific order.

 

LISTS INTRODUCED BY A COMPLETE SENTENCE

Lists can be introduced by a sentence in the body, which should end with a colon. The items can be complete sentences or fragments. The first letter of each list-item must be capitalized if the items are complete sentences. Each sentence requires punctuation.

 

Keeping with Cabral’s teachings, we must ask the following questions while interacting with social issues:

       Do our solutions consider the stated needs of the community we are speaking for?

       Do we have a clear strategy?

       Do we have realistic expectations?

If the items are not complete sentences, they should be bulleted or numbered. These should also be introduced with a colon at the end of a sentence. In both formats, begin each item in lowercase. Bulleted items do not require punctuation. Numbered items, beyond their respective numbers, should follow the same guidelines as a list-item that continues the sentence that introduces it (detailed below).

 

LISTS THAT CONTINUE THE SENTENCES THAT INTRODUCED THEM

Some sentences can be stratified into vertically-set lists. These lists should be considered, technically, as one single sentence. Do not introduce the list with a colon. Simply begin the sentence as you normally would and then format each item onto a separate line. End each item with a semicolon, closing the second-to-last item with a semicolon, followed by the word “and” or the word “or”. End the final item with the closing punctuation of the sentence.

 

Several health-food stores are focusing on customer safety by

 

       requiring that essential oil manufacturers include skin irritation warnings on their bottles;

 

       documenting the temperature of all frozen produce upon arrival; and

 

       performing all mopping after hours, in order to prevent accidents.

 

Bullet items that continue sentences do no not require punctuation, nor do they require a colon to introduce them.