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Open list blocks

Open each of the list blocks. The largest list is the entire memo, e‑mail, letter, or report. Open that list with the statement of contents at the beginning. The items in that list are longer because each item is a section of the memo, e‑mail, letter, or report. Since the items are longer, list the items in the statement of contents, as in this example:

This report contains two items of information about the meeting:

  1. The time and date
  2. The agenda topics I want you to prepare for

Time and Date

The meeting will be . . . [report continues here]

Decide on a key word to describe the items in the list: steps, items of information, questions, and so on. In the example above, the writer has chosen to call the parts of the report "items of information." They could have been labeled as "parts," "sections," or any other designation. Once you have decided on the label name, don't change it throughout the memo, e‑mail, letter, or report.

The writer has also stated the exact number of those things: in this case, "two items of information." Avoid using "some," "many," or "several."

Finally, because the report contains details about the two items of information, they have longer explanations. That justifies listing the two items of information in short statements at the beginning.

If the items of information were presented in a sentence apiece, the writer probably wouldn't list them. Instead, he or she would simply end at "This report contains two items of information about the meeting" and state the two: "The first item is that the meeting will be held in the conference room at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 10." You may choose to leave out "The first item," but including it helps the reader follow your explanation. He or she knows this is the first of two and the second will follow.

Notice also that the writer puts no text between the statement of what is in the report and the first item of information in the list. Write the statement, then the first item of the list. Otherwise, the reader will become confused about the contents.

This is a sample presented in the previous guideline explanation. The opening words are in red.

This report contains our questions about the water disposal area and recommendations for the water discharged from the airport runways.

We have three questions to clarify the current and future use of the farm ponds beside the airport.

  1. What is the projected time period that the ponds will be used to collect water?
  2. Will the new owners allow use of the acreage for that purpose for an extended time period?
  3. Will this same acreage be sufficient to handle all the future water that might run off at this location? In your answer, specify the following:

    • What quantity of runoff can the acreage absorb in a 24-hour period?
    • Into what channels will the acreage drain if it cannot hold the runoff?
We also have three recommendations for the water discharged from the runways.

  1. The water could be discharged to Lincoln Creek if the discharge meets water quality standards.
  2. If only elevated heavy metals are present, the contaminated water may be routed to the farm pond.
  3. If an elevated level of nitrate is present, the water may be applied on the acreage reserved for that purpose so it seeps into the ground.

The writer presents the items in the first list using the same format for each. She breaks for the item and begins "We have" and "We also have." The lists within each of those two parts of the larger list have the same format. Each begins with a number and the writer breaks after each. The items in the list under "In your answer, specify the following" has the same structure for each item, a bullet, and the writer skips a line between them.

Whatever the list at whatever level in your document,

  1. Introduce the list with a name for the items ("questions," "recommendations," and so on).
  2. Specify the number of items in the list ("two recommendations," "three questions," and so on).
  3. Follow the same format for each item in a single list (numbers, bullets, first words, indentations, and so on).
  4. Separate the items with white space and breaks.