How to Use a Colon to Introduce a List

Wise counsel from Richard Lauchman, author of Punctuation at Work: Simple Principles for Achieving Clarity and Good Style:

When you use a colon to introduce a list, make sure to write a complete thought first. In other words, don’t write something like this:

“Next year we must increase crease our marketing in: the West, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southern regions.”

Instead, your lead-in should be a complete thought, like this:

“Next year, we must increase our marketing in three regions: the West, the Pacific Northwest, and the South.”

Notice how the complete sentence does a much better job of helping the reader anticipate how the expression will end?

A few more examples:

•   Today we will discuss two topics: executive compensation and shareholder rights.

•   She visited four countries: Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy.

•   We have only three options: reduce the bid, increase the scope of work, or abandon the proposal.

1 comment:

  1. The only style books I need are Lauchmman's. When I'm unsure whether to write in a way that "is" right or a way that "sounds" right," I ask myself, "What would Lauchman do?" And the answer, usually, is "Damn the rules: Do whatever you must to be clear without being distracting."