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Home > Writing > How to Write Well-structured Lists?

How to Write Well-structured Lists?

Aditya Raghunath
Written by
Aditya RaghunathProfessional Tech Writer
Updated on:Jun 18, 2024

Writing a list in your daily life doesn’t seem like much of a challenge. Are you going shopping? No problem, just write down everything you need, and you’re good to go. Do you have a busy day ahead of you? Make a to-do list, and you’ll easily power through the tasks.

However, making a list in writing isn’t as easy. Technically, you could just shoot off a series of bullet points as they come to you. However, such lists will likely lack coherence, interfere with your flow, and throw off your reader.

To avoid this unfortunate scenario, you’ll have to put a bit more effort into crafting a compelling list. This effort involves deciding what to include in the list, how to arrange it, and where to place it in your content. Read on to master the art of list writing.

When Is a List Needed in an Article?

Since writing lists can be considered a skill in writing, you might wonder why go through the effort of incorporating them into your writing. Why not just stick to paragraphs and avoid all the hassles? Well, the truth is that lists can do wonders for your writing.

Though there are several types of lists (as you’ll learn in the next section), this guide will stick to vertical lists, as they’re particularly effective.

By incorporating lists into your article (or any piece of content), you achieve the following:

  • Breaking up walls of text, thus making your article more digestible
  • Making your writing more visually appealing
  • Highlighting important information and key takeaways
  • Simplifying complex topics
  • Providing structure to your writing

Basically, you should write a list whenever you feel a need to enhance the readability, engagement, and overall comprehension of your content.

What Are the Different Types of Lists in Writing?

When hearing the word "list," most people think of vertical lists organized with bullet points or numbers. However, you can also create horizontal lists. It all depends on how you want to present information in your writing. Let’s explore each list type in more detail to help you decide which option to use and when.

A Simple Horizontal List

A "traditional" horizontal list refers to listing simple items within a larger sentence. This means that a horizontal list is typically a part of a paragraph, so if you were wondering how to list things in a paragraph, this might be your best option.

Here’s an example of a simple horizontal list to help you understand how to list in a paragraph.

"We visited the museum, the zoo, and the botanical garden this weekend."

As you can see from this example, commas are used to separate the listed items. Also, "and" is used before the last item to conclude the list. Instead of "and," you can use "or," but this change will also impact the meaning. A list with "or" indicates that only one item of the list can be chosen, as you can see in the example below.

"The guide suggested visiting the museum, the zoo, or the botanical garden during our break."

In informal writing, you can get away with using "and/or" to indicate that any combination of the listed items is acceptable, but formal writing and some writing guidelines discourage it.

A Horizontal List With Semicolons

You might think that the only thing different about this list type is using semicolons instead of commas. However, the main difference lies in the listed items. Namely, you should only use this lit type when listing complex items or particularly long phrases. Let us give you an example for each.

"On our summer trip to Europe, we visited Rome, Italy; Paris, France; and Lisbon, Portugal."

Suppose the reader isn’t familiar with European countries and cities. In that case, they might believe each item is a separate place. Using semicolons clearly communicates that each listed item is a combination of a city and its corresponding country.

"If you’re considering adopting a pet, you can choose a dog, known for its loyalty and companionship; a cat, which tends to be more independent and low-maintenance; or a rabbit, if you prefer a small and sociable animal." 

Using semicolons in this and similar sentences provides an obvious break between listed items, helping the reader to follow along.

A Vertical List

Horizontal lists will do the trick when there are few items to list, and readability isn’t an issue. But how do you list more items in an article without overwhelming the reader? Using vertical lists, of course.

Besides allowing you to list more items, these lists will also stand out from the surrounding text, allowing you to draw attention to a specific part of your article. When typing out a vertical list, you can separate the items using the following symbols:

  • Bullet points. Use bullet points if the order of listed items is unimportant (as is the case with this list).
  • Letters. Letters should mark items that will be further discussed later on in the article.
  • Numbers. Use numbers to create an ordered, sequenced list where the order matters (e.g., a set of instructions).

How to Write a List?

As we’ve already mentioned, a list in writing differs from an everyday list. Though there aren’t any formal rules to follow when writing a list, these "guidelines" can help you create a well-structured list:

  • Keep it simple. Each listed item should be stated simply and directly. There’s no need to write entire sentences within a list.
  • Stick to a single word or phrasal form. If the first listed item is a noun, try to make all the ensuing items nouns. Alternating between different types of items can confuse the reader and make the list less cohesive.
  • Keep the listed items roughly the same length. To ensure the reader pays attention to each listed item and your list looks visually appealing, stay consistent with the items’ lengths.
  • Stick to uniform formatting. If possible, make sure all the lists across your article are formatted the same. This will give your writing a polished appearance.
  • Avoid starting each item with the same word. Any list writer knows how challenging it can be to come up with a new start for each item in a set of instructions. For example, you can alternate between "go to," "navigate to," and "access" instead of repeating "visit."
  • Pay attention to punctuation. For items that aren’t complete sentences, you don’t need end punctuation. However, remember the advice above that lists should be formatted similarly.
  • Introduce the list properly. Always use a heading or a lead-in sentence to provide context for your list.
  • Avoid multi-level lists. If you’re wondering how to write a list within a list, our best advice is: don’t. These multi-level lists typically defeat the purpose of lists themselves; they make your writing more complex instead of simple.

As mentioned, some of these guidelines can be bent. For example, when you’re writing an outline, you will likely need a multi-level list to keep track of sections.

Writing Lists Made Easy

After reviewing list writing examples and guidelines, you should be fully equipped to write any list your content calls for. If you want to make your whole article into a list, you can always google fun ideas for the top 10 lists and find the perfect list to write. But one thing’s for sure – you won’t need to google "How do I list items in my article?" anymore.

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