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Tag Archives | Chicago Manual of Style

Some guidance on bullets with help from Britney, Bridget and Brady, and Anna Nicole’s baby daddies

Do not capitalize the first letter of each bulleted item or use punctuation at the end of an entry in a list unless the introduction to the list ends with a colon or period and each entry in it is a complete and independent sentence. And if one bulleted item requires punctuation, they all do.

(For a refresher on whether a colon is required, please read my post on that subject.)

Also, unless the list is a sequence, begin each entry with a bullet, not a number.

In this example, punctuation is not needed at the end of the introduction or each entry, as the list and all of the bulleted items read like one complete sentence.

As Britney Spears, Anna Nicole Smith, and Bridget Moynahan were the three most searched for people on Yahoo! last week, it’s a fair assumption that American culture is most interested in women who

  • shave their heads and enter rehab
  • die in a casino’s hotel and then have a slew of men claiming to be their baby daddy
  • carry Tom Brady’s love child

Often writers want to punctuate each entry with a semicolon or comma and add “and” to the end of the penultimate item. Doing so is wrong.

Again, this advice is based on The Chicago Manual of Style. The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, for example, mandates colons (or a period) before every bulleted list, that each item in a list begins with a capital letter, and usually that each entry ends with a period.

When to introduce a list with a colon and when not to: A short primer

Colons are one of the most misused pieces of punctuation I encounter. In short, use a colon to introduce a list, but not if the list reads like a complete sentence (it does not matter if this sentence is broken down into bullet points).

  • When to use a colon (the introduction to the list is a complete sentence): Last week’s top news stories featured a diverse group of people: Barack Obama, Anna Nicole Smith, and three naughty astronauts.
  • When not to use a colon (many writers put one after “such as”): The top news stories from last week featured a diverse group of people, such as Barack Obama, Anna Nicole Smith, and three naughty astronauts.

As with all of the suggestions I provide on this website, some style manuals offer different guidance. Most of what I recommend is based on The Chicago Manual of Style. The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, for example, mandates colons (or a period) before every bulleted list.

Can electronic style manuals replace the paper format?

While reading last week’s New Yorker, in which two of my favorite writers had articles about two of my least favorite people (Jeffrey Toobin on Arlen Specter and Ken Auletta on Lou Dobbs), I noticed a small advertisement toward the back of the magazine:

The Chicago Manual of Style is now available online.

One of the great benefits of freelancing is that I can work from anywhere. Having to lug around style manuals, however, hinders my mobility. So the ad got me thinking about electronic style manuals: might they make it easier to travel?

Unfortunately, there are several drawbacks about this new product:

  • It only is available online. So if you are going to rely on it, you need to have Internet access.
  • Annual subscriptions cost $25. As the hardcopy costs $35 (with free shipping) on Amazon.com and the manual is not updated every year, the website is more expensive.
  • My copy of Chicago—as I’m sure is the case with many other writers and editors—is dog-eared. I’m not sure how to replicate that timesaver online.

Chicago, however, is available as a CD-ROM. I figured that format might better suit my needs as it’s only a one-time purchase and it doesn’t require Internet access.

Then I read the feedback on Amazon.com: “The software implementation permits users to read only a single numbered paragraph of the book at a time: those who know the print edition will readily understand that having to click one’s mouse repeatedly to move from paragraph 17:148 to 17:149 to 17:150, each occupying just a few lines on separate screens, is an unbelievably cumbersome way to use this essential reference tool.”

So much for not having to cart around the big orange book any more.

Other style manuals have been similarly clumsy in their electronic formats. The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, which I reviewed earlier, comes with a CD-ROM, but it does not work on Macs and most reviewers have deemed the disc useless. And while The Economist’s Style Guide is available online, other than The Economist I don’t know of any publications that use it.

Why you should include the date last accessed when referencing a website

Rule 17.12 in The Chicago Manual of Style:

Access dates in online source citations are of limited value, since previous versions will often be unavailable to readers (not to mention that an author may have consulted several revisions across any number of days in the course of research). Chicago therefore does not generally recommend including them in a published citation. For sources likely to have substantive updates, however, or in time-sensitive fields such as medicine or law where even small corrections may be significant, the date of the author’s last visit to the site may usefully be added.

I disagree. Online references always should include the date last accessed:

  • Websites like The Internet Archive make it possible to access earlier iterations of a webpage, sorted by date.
  • Including the date last accessed reminds readers that if they review the author’s references, the websites may not contain the same content as when the author visited it.

Authors can help subsequent researchers by saving every webpage they use and not just bookmarking them (all Internet browsers allow users to save a copy of a website). Hence, if the website has changed, all a researcher needs to do is contact a paper’s author and ask for a copy of the archived website to view the source as the author saw it.

The differences between em dashes, en dashes, and hyphens

One of the most common problems I encounter is the improper use of dashes and hyphens. Here’s a quick reference adapted from a presentation on grammar I gave at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu when I was an editor there on the Commercial Market Strategies (CMS) project:

  • Em dash — (hold ALT and type 0, 1, 5, 1 in Microsoft Word on a PC, also accessible from the Insert > Symbol > font (normal text) menu). Denotes a sudden break in thought or emphasis.
  • En dash — (hold ALT and type 0, 1, 5, 0 in Microsoft Word on a PC, also accessible from the Insert > Symbol > font (normal text) menu). Denotes a range, often replacing the word “to.”
  • Hyphen – (the key next to “0″ on most keyboards). Connects compound words. (Yes, I realize there’s no difference between the symbol for the en dash and hyphen in this entry; it’s a quirk in HTML.)

(Because of a glitch in the Safari and Firefox browsers, the sizes of the en dash and hyphen may appear incorrectly on your screen; the em dash is the larger of the two.)

Example: Tax-preparation services will be held March 10–19—what a thrill that will be!

Also, these rules are per The Chicago Manual of Style. For more information, check out its Q&A on hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes or Wikipedia’s entry on dashes.