Business Writing Courses

General Business Writing

Business Reports

Email, Memos, Letters

Grammar and Punctuation

Grammar and Writing Together

Writing for Nonnative Speakers

Proofreading and Editing

Training Writing Trainers

Tutoring and Coaching

Writing in Specialized Areas

Self-Study Courses

Self-Study Courses with No Instructor Access or Record Keeping

    BWC21 Business Writing Skills

    BWC35 Writing Clear, Effective Email

    BWC80 Basic Business Grammar

 

Keep list items in the same format


Decide on a format and follow it consistently.

Keep all items in a list parallel. If the list begins with action words, make all items begin with action words. If they begin with "ing" words, make them all start with "ing" words.

This writing sample contains two lists. The two lists are not presented in a consistent format and neither is broken out:

The documentation delivered and the associated process-improvement recommendations, along with associated process-performance-management program introduced, were instrumental in improving Lawton Technologiesí process standardization and their sales force effectiveness and efficiency.

One list may stay in the paragraph format because its items are short. The other should be broken out and presented with a consistent format. This is one way of rewriting the paragraph:

Three influences were responsible for improving Lawton Technologiesí process standardization, sales force effectiveness, and efficiency:

  1. The company delivered the documentation.
  2. It presented process-improvement recommendations with the documentation.
  3. It introduced a process-performance-management program based on the recommendations.

The items in the broken-out list are all full sentences. Because the writer presented the first item in a full sentence, the others should be presented in full sentences.

However, the broken-out list could have been presented in other formats, as long as the writer was consistent:

Three influences were responsible for improving Lawton Technologiesí process standardization, sales force effectiveness, and efficiency:

  1. Delivering the documentation
  2. Presenting process-improvement recommendations with the documentation
  3. Introducing a process-performance-management program based on the recommendations

In this case, the writer decided to begin the list items with "ing" words (gerunds). The items are not complete sentences, so they should not have periods at the ends.

This is another format:

Lawton Technologies decided to perform three activities that resulted in process standardization, sales force effectiveness, and efficiency:

  1. Deliver the documentation.
  2. Present process-improvement recommendations with the documentation.
  3. Introduce a process-performance-management program based on the recommendations.

In this case, the writer started each item with a strong action word (verb).

Whatever format you decide to use, follow it through in every item.

Use the same order presented in the statement of contents.

In the opening to the memo, e‑mail, letter, or report or section of the memo, e‑mail, letter, or report, you may have presented a list of the contents. Follow the same order in the broken-out list.

Use the same key words you used in the statement of contents.

Use the same key words in the list that you used in the introduction to the memo, e‑mail, letter, or report or section, exactly as you had presented them. Do not change the words or omit words.

These paragraphs contain lists that are buried. The paragraph describes the process of applying for an MBA program.

The most important step in successfully applying to an MBA program is to carefully follow the application procedures for selected schools. The application procedure requires that you first note the application deadline. Then, actually filing your application involves the completion of three activities: writing essays, obtaining letters of recommendation from your references, and obtaining academic transcripts. As stated, before you begin, you must note the stated deadline for applying. It is important that you send your materials well before that deadline. The first activity in actual filing of application is writing essays. Most schools will require you to write three or four personal essays. In one essay, provide your educational and personal background, your experience, and your goals. In another essay, discuss your perception of the importance of having an MBA degree from a particular school. Another essay should describe examples of your leadership, teamwork, and creativity. To ensure completeness, ask family members, friends, colleagues, and professors to critique your essays. Obtain letters of recommendation from references. The references should be people who know you well. Discuss the objectives of the recommendations with them in advance to ensure a positive reflection of your abilities. Obtain academic transcripts. It is the simplest and least time consuming of the application activities. However, be sure the transcripts are complete and delivered in time.

This is the same information with the lists broken out. The list is preceded by a short statement of the contents. The headings for the items and opening sentences to the items then use the key words from the list of contents exactly as stated in the list of contents.

Notice that the lists within the body start with the same types of words: "Note," "Write," and "Obtain" (all verbs) for the first and "Your educational and personal background," "Your perception," and "Examples" (all nouns and noun phrases) for the second.

The headings in this illustration wrap to the next line because of the confined space. On a page of text they would not wrap, but do not be afraid of headings with more than one line. Use as much space as you need to be clear.

This sample contains little detail for this illustration; the writer likely would expand on the contents.

This report contains explanations of the four steps you must complete to apply successfully to an MBA program:

  1. Note the time and requirements for submission so you meet them.
  2. Write essays to submit with the application.
  3. Obtain letters of recommendation
  4. Obtain transcripts.

NOTE THE TIME AND REQUIREMENTS FOR SUBMISSION

The first step you must complete to apply successfully to an MBA program is to note the time and requirements for submission so you submit the application before the due date with all the parts the school expects you to submit.

WRITE ESSAYS TO SUBMIT WITH THE APPLICATION

The second step you must complete is to write essays to submit with the application. Most schools will require you to write three or four personal essays. Write essays about the following topics:

  1. Your educational and personal background, experience, and goals.
  2. Your perception of the importance of having an MBA degree from a particular school.
  3. Examples of your leadership, teamwork, and creativity.

To ensure completeness, ask family members, friends, colleagues, and professors to critique your essays.

OBTAIN LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

The third step you must complete to apply successfully to an MBA program is to obtain letters of recommendation from references. The references should be people who know you well. Discuss the objectives of the recommendations with them in advance to ensure a positive reflection of your abilities.

OBTAIN ACADEMIC TRANSCRIPTS

The final step is to obtain academic transcripts. It is the simplest and least time consuming of the application activities. However, be sure the transcripts are complete and delivered in time.

If your response to repeating the key words is typical, it will seem redundant to you. The reader doesn't even notice it. However, the reader does feel the writing is very clear and easy to follow. Notice that the first sentences after each heading repeat the key words, especially the category word "steps." That helps make the writing so clear it cannot be misunderstood. The writer chose to omit the fuller statement "in applying successfully to an MBA program" from two of the openings to items assuming the reader would not need to have that repeated. However, for longer articles, with more text between the beginnings of new items, include the entire statement to make the writing clear.

You may feel this short report doesn't require headings. If not, leave them out. The framework for making the writing clear is already there. The contents are stated at the beginning; the opening sentences for each explanation repeat the key words from the statement of contents in the same order using the same key words identically.

This is what the report would look like without headings.

This report contains explanations of the three steps you must complete to apply successfully to an MBA program:

  1. Note the time and requirements for submission so you meet them.
  2. Write essays to submit with the application.
  3. Obtain letters of recommendation.

The first step you must complete to apply successfully to an MBA program is to note the time and requirements for submission so you submit the application before the due date with all the parts the school expects you to submit.

The second step you must complete is to write essays to submit with the application. Most schools will require you to write three or four personal essays. Write essays about the following topics:

  1. Your educational and personal background, experience, and goals.
  2. Your perception of the importance of having an MBA degree from a particular school.
  3. Examples of your leadership, teamwork, and creativity.

To ensure completeness, ask family members, friends, colleagues, and professors to critique your essays.

The third step you must complete to apply successfully to an MBA program is to obtain letters of recommendation from references. The references should be people who know you well. Discuss the objectives of the recommendations with them in advance to ensure a positive reflection of your abilities.

The final step is to obtain academic transcripts. It is the simplest and least time consuming of the application activities. However, be sure the transcripts are complete and delivered in time.

Follow one of the acceptable formats for capitalization and bulleting in lists.

You may use the following formats for items in a bulleted list. Use one format consistently within a list. Generally, use the same format between lists in your document.

Notice in this list of formats that I have chosen to use "Format 1" rather than the number "1" because I decided "Format 1" would be clearer.

Format 1: Use no end punctuation. Use no end punctuation if the items are not complete sentences. You may capitalize or not capitalize the first words of these items.

Format 2: Capitalize the first words and end with periods. If any of the items is a complete sentence, you should capitalize the first words of all items and end with periods, even if one or more of the other items is not a complete sentence.

Format 3: Use commas and a period after the last item. You may write the list as though it were a sentence divided up into items. If so, put a comma or semicolon at the end of each item and period after the last item. You may or may not write "and" at the end of the next-to-the-last item.

Sometimes use a colon before a list.

Use a colon before a list only if the words preceding the colon are a complete sentence and you could use a period as easily as a colon. Business writers are commonly putting colons before lists when the preceding sentence is not complete. That may pass because many people do it, but standard usage still does not permit it.

INCORRECT:

Regardless of the benefits of the reductions, two impacts we know are:

  1. They will reduce morale.
  2. They will make it difficult for us to function at peak level.

To correct the list, change the beginning.

CORRECT:

Regardless of the benefits of the reductions, we know they will have two impacts:

  1. They will reduce morale.
  2. They will make it difficult for us to function at peak level.

Another way to correct the problem is to change the items and eliminate the colon. That would also eliminate the repeated "they are." Try to eliminate repeated words at the beginnings of the items.

CORRECT:

Regardless of the benefits of the reductions, we know they will

  1. reduce morale
  2. make it difficult for us to function at peak level

Notice that the author decided to eliminate the punctuation at the ends of the items. He or she could have put commas or semicolons at the ends of the first two and a period at the end of the last one. Since the items are not complete sentences, the writer was correct not to capitalize them and put periods at the ends of all of them.