List Of Essay Conventions

Lists are useful because they emphasize selected information in regular text. When you see a list of three or four items strung out vertically on the page rather than in normal paragraph format, you naturally notice it more and are likely to pay more attention to it. Certain types of lists also make for easier reading. For example, in instructions, it is a big help for each step to be numbered and separate from the preceding and following steps. Lists also create more white space and spread out the text so that pages don't seem like solid walls of words.

Like headings, the various types of lists are an important feature of professional technical writing: they help readers understand, remember, and review key points; they help readers follow a sequence of actions or events; and they break up long stretches of straight text.

Your task for this chapter is to learn about the different types and uses of lists and to learn their specific format and style.

Lists: General Guidelines

In professional technical-writing contexts, you must use a specific style of lists, like the one presented here.

  • Use lists to highlight or emphasize text or to enumerate sequential items.
  • Lists emphasize important points and help readers follow a sequence.
  • Use exactly the spacing, indentation, punctuation, and caps style shown in the following discussion and illustrations.
  • Make list items parallel in phrasing.
  • Make sure that each item in the list reads grammatically with the lead-in.
  • Use a lead-in to introduce the list items and to indicate the meaning or purpose of the list (and punctuate it with a colon).
  • When two items are alternatives, use a bulleted list (with or between). Do not use numbered lists for ORed items. For three or more alternatives, indicate that in the list lead-in.
  • When a separate notice or explanatory paragraph follows a item, indent that separate material to the text of the parent list item.


    Indented material that elaborates on the parent list item.
  • Avoid using headings as lead-ins for lists.
  • Avoid overusing lists; using too many lists destroys their effectiveness.
  • Use similar types of lists consistently in similar text in the same document. For example, if you have two areas of text that present steps for doing a task, both should use the same list format—in this case, numbered lists.
  • Use the "hanging indent" format for list items two or more lines long. This format is illustrated in item 1 of the Basic Scan figure. To create this format, select a hanging indent in Format > Paragraph of 0.25 inch. Experiment with other lengths.
  • Use the "styles" function in your software to create vertical lists rather than constructing them manually. See this brief tutorial on using styles for lists.

Note: In-sentence lists could be called "horizontal" lists. All the other lists types pesented here are "vertical" lists in that they format the items vertically rather than in paragraph format.

Guidelines for Specific Types of Lists

It's difficult to state guidelines on choosing between the various kinds of lists, but here's a stab at it:

  • Most importantly, use numbered lists for items that are in a required order (such as step-by-step instructions) or for items that must be referred to by item number. Use bulleted lists for items that are in no required order.
  • With in-sentence lists, there are no conventions when to use letters (a), (b), and so on, as opposed to numbers (1), (2), and so on. If you are in a numbered list and need a sublist, use lowercase letters, to contrast with the numbers. Otherwise, there seem to be no widely agreed-upon guidelines—just be consistent!
  • Use vertical lists as opposed to in-sentence lists when you want the emphasis provided by the vertical presentation. In-sentence lists provide only minimal emphasis; vertical lists provide much more.
  • Within an individual report, use in-sentence lists and vertical lists consistently for similar situations. For example, if you have topic overviews for each section of a report, use in-sentence or vertical lists for the overview—but don't mix them for that particular use.

Common Problems with Lists

Problems with lists usually include the following:

  • Mix-up between numbered and bulleted lists
  • Lack of parallel phrasing in the list items
  • Use of single parentheses on the list-item number or letter
  • Run-over lines not aligned with the text of list items
  • Lack of a strong lead-in sentence introducing list items, and lack of a colon to punctuate lead-ins
  • Inconsistent caps style in list items
  • Unnecessary punctuation of list items
  • Inconsistent use of lists in similar text
  • Lists that have too many items and need to be subdivided or consolidated

Format for Lists

Use the following for specific details on the capitalization, typography (bold, underlining, different fonts, different types sizes), and spacing for each type of list.

In-sentence lists

Use these guidelines for in-sentence lists:

  1. Use a colon to introduce the list items only if a complete sentence precedes the list. In this problem version, the colon breaks right into the middle of a sentence (how dare it!):
    Problem:For this project, you need: tape, scissors, and white-out.
    Revision:For this project, you need tape, scissors, and white-out.

  2. Use both opening and closing parentheses on the list item numbers or letters: (a) item, (b) item, etc.
  3. Use either regular Arabic numbers or lowercase letters within the parentheses, but use them consistently. (Do not punctuate either with periods.) Use lowercase for the text of in-sentence lists items, except when regular capitalization rules require caps.
  4. Punctuate the in-sentence list items with commas if they are not complete sentences; with semicolons, if they are complete sentences.
  5. Use the same spacing for in-sentence lists as in regular non-list text.
  6. Make the in-sentence list occur at the end of the sentence. Never place an in-sentence list introduced by a colon anywhere but at the end of the sentence, as in this example:
    Problem:The following items: tape, scissors, and white-out are needed for this project.
    Revision:The following items are needed for this project: tape, scissors, and white-out.


Examples of in-sentence lists.

Simple vertical lists

Use these guidelines for simple vertical lists:

  1. Introduce the list with a lead-in phrase or clause (the lead-in need not be a complete sentence; the list items can complete the grammar started by the lead-in). Punctuate the lead-in with a colon.
  2. Use simple vertical lists when the list items do not need to be emphasized and are listed vertically merely for ease of reading.
  3. Use sentence-style capitalization on list items.
  4. Begin run-over lines under the text of the list item, not the regular left margin. This format is called the hanging-indent style.
  5. Use the equivalent of a blank line above and below vertical lists.
  6. Either start list items flush left or indent them no more than half an inch.
  7. Use "compact" list format if you have just a few list items only a single line each. In the compact format, there is no vertical space between list items. Use a "loose" format—vertical space between list items—if the list items are multiple lines long.
  8. Punctuate list items only if they are complete sentences or verb phrases that complete the sentence begun by the lead-in (and use periods in these two cases).
  9. Watch out for lists with more than 6 or 8 list items; for long lists, look for ways to subdivide or consolidate.
  10. When possible, omit articles (a, an, the) from the beginning of non-sentence list items.


Example of a simple vertical list. No numbers or bullets.

Bulleted lists

Use these guidelines for bulleted lists:

  1. Introduce the list with a lead-in phrase or clause (the lead-in need not be a complete sentence; the list items can complete the grammar started by the lead-in). Punctuate the lead-in with a colon.
  2. Use bulleted lists when the list items are in no necessary order but you want to emphasize the items in the list.
  3. Use asterisks or hyphens if you have no access to an actual bullet. Use your software's list styles for these vertical lists.
  4. Use sentence-style capitalization on list items.
  5. Begin run-over lines under the text of the list item, not the bullet. This format is called the the hanging-indent style.
  6. Use 0.25 inches for the hanging-indent (between the bullet and the text of the list item).
  7. Use the equivalent of a blank line above and below vertical lists.
  8. Either start list items flush left or indent them no more than half an inch.
  9. Use "compact" list format if you have just a few list items only a single line each. In the compact format, there is no vertical space between list items. Use a "loose" format—vertical space between list items—if the list items are multiple lines long.
  10. If you have sublist items in a bulleted list, use a less prominent symbol for a bullet (such as a dash or clear disc), and indent the sublist items to the text of the higher-level list items. (It is certainly possible to have subnumbered items within a bulleted list, in which case indent them the same as subbulleted items.)
  11. Punctuate bulleted list items only if they are complete sentences or verb phrases that complete the sentence begun by the lead-in (and use periods in these two cases).
  12. Watch out for bulleted lists with more than 6 or 8 list items; for long bulleted lists, look for ways to subdivide or consolidate.
  13. Avoid single-item lists. It's just like traditional outlines: if you have a 1 or an a, you need a 2 or a b.
  14. When possible, omit articles (a, an, the) from the beginning of list items.


Example of a bulleted list. Items not in any required order.

Numbered lists

Use these guidelines for numbered lists:

  1. Introduce the list with a lead-in phrase or clause (the lead-in need not be a complete sentence; the list items can complete the grammar started by the lead-in). Punctuate the lead-in with a colon.
  2. Use numbered lists when the list items are in a required order (for example, chronological) or must be referenced from somewhere else in the text.
  3. Type the number followed by a period; do not use parentheses on the number. Use your software's list styles for these vertical lists.
  4. Use sentence-style capitalization on list items.
  5. Use "compact" list format if you have just a few list items only a single line each. In the compact format, there is no vertical space between list items. Use a "loose" format—vertical space between list items—if the list items are multiple lines long.
  6. Begin run-over lines under the text of the list item, not the number. This format is called the hanging-indent style.
  7. Use 0.25 inches for the hanging-indent (between the number and the text of the list item).
  8. Use the equivalent of a blank line above and below vertical lists.
  9. Either start list items flush left or indent them no more than half an inch.
  10. If you have sublist items in a numbered list, use lowercase letters, and indent the sublist items to the text of the higher-level list items. (It is certainly possible to have subbullet items within a numbered list, in which case indent them the same as subnumbered items.)
  11. If you have sublist items, use a less prominent symbol for a bullet (such as a dash or clear disc) or a lowercase letter for subnumbered items, and indent the sublist items to the text of the higher-level list items.
  12. Punctuate numbered list items only if they are complete sentences or verb phrases that complete the sentence begun by the lead-in (and use periods in these two cases).
  13. Watch out for numbered lists with more than 8 or 10 list items; for long numbered lists, look for ways to subdivide or consolidate.
  14. Avoid single-item lists. If you have a 1 or an a, you need a 2 or a b.
  15. When possible, omit articles (a, an, the) from the beginning of list items.


Example of a numbered vertical list. Items are in a required order.

Two-column lists

Use these guidelines for two-column lists:

  1. Use two-column lists when you have a series of paired items, for example, terms and definitions.
  2. Introduce the list with a lead-in sentence that is a complete sentence. Punctuate the lead-in sentence with a colon.
  3. Column headings are optional; if used, align them to the left margin of the text of the columns.
  4. Either start list items flush left or indent them no more than half an inch.
  5. Use "compact" list format if you have just a few list items only a single line each. In the compact format, there is no vertical space between list items. Use a "loose" format—vertical space between list items—if the list items are multiple lines long.
  6. Use sentence-style capitalization for both columns.
  7. Punctuate items in the columns only if they are complete sentences.
  8. Left-align the items in both columns.
  9. When possible, omit articles (a, an, the) from the beginning of list items.

Note: The best way to create a two-column list is to use a table and hide the grid lines. If you use tabs between the columns, you are in for a mess if the text changes at all.


Example of a two-column list (pairs of list items). Not illustrated here, column headings are often used to indicate the contents of the two columns (for example, here it might be "Term" as the heading for the column 1 and "Definition" for column 2).

Lists with run-in headings

One last little variation on lists is the vertical list with run-in headings or labels at the beginning of the items. This format is used extensively in this book. It's like another way of doing a two-column list.

You can use bold or italics for the actual run-in heading (italics is used in the figure).


Example of a vertical list with run-in headings. Very useful for indicating the contents of each item in a lengthy vertical list when a two-column list is not quite right for the situation.

Nested lists

A nested list contains two or more levels of list items. Nested lists can contain every combination of list type: numbered list items (123...) with lowercase-letter sublist items (abc...), filled-disc bulleted list items with clear-disc or hyphenated sublist items; and other combinations of these.


Example of a nested list. If the sublist items were in a required order, they would be abc....

Now here's another example of a nested list:


Another example of a nested list. Standard is to use lowercase letters for sublist items that are in a required order.

Now here are two final examples of nested lists:


More nested lists. If the sublist items are in no required order, try using the clear disc (standard in Word and Open Office) or the en dash.

I would appreciate your thoughts, reactions, criticism regarding this chapter: your response—David McMurrey.

REVISED & RE-STRUCTURED

There is increasingly clear agreement as to the conventions expected for each text type specified in the Language B Subject Guide (SL list p.31; HL list p.40). So what exactly are these 'conventions' referred to in the Paper 2 Criterion C Format ? More precisely, what instructions do we give the students ... what plans do we provide them, so that they can construct something that will fly ?

This section of the website is intended for reference :

  • this page summarises the key conventions that will be expected in marking Criterion C
  • subordinate pages provide, in addition, further indicators of text type with a discussion of underlying approaches which will affect style and tone

In addition, refer to the page  Specific text type skills , which provides lists of key skills (or 'transfer goals') for each of the text types. In addition, this page shows the text types ranked in order from 'easy' to 'challenging', which should suggest a sequence in which to teach them.

UPDATE

A change in the design of the Paper 2 Marking Notes, as from May 2016 - FIVE conventions are now expected, as suggested in the lists below.

.

Links

1. click on the required text type in the list below to access the summary of conventions, on this page

2. click on the heading of each summary to access the page that covers that text type with a detailed discussion

Key conventions, listed 

Article

Blog/diary entry

Brochure, leaflet, flyer, pamphlet, advertisement

Essay (SL only)

Interview

Introduction to debate, speech, talk, presentation

News report

Official report

Proposal (HL only)

Review

Set of instructions, guidelines

Written correspondence

Discussion in the subordinate pages

The recognisable features of each text type have been organised according to two categories :-

Basic Format ... the most easily visible (and teachable) features of the text type - 'format' in the sense of layout, the physical organisation of the script

I list all of the common features that I can think of; not all of these would need to be present for the text type to be clearly recognisable.

Approach ... the less visible features of how the text type would normally be handled - register, author's voice and tone, address to audience, organisation of ideas, and so on.

I list major elements, in descending order of importance (most important, in my view, first). Again, not all of these need to be present - indeed in some cases, some of the approaches may be contradictory and would need to be selected according to the precise nature of the task.

The Basic Format elements can easily be taught and even the weakest students should be able to reproduce them. The Approach elements are intrinsically more difficult to teach, since they often involve quite sophisticated mental procedures - but surely students should be appropriately challenged with these.

Finally, note that I regularly refer to 'an exam script', in the context of defining what a 'good' version of the text type should display. This is simply being realistic - the point of this list is not primarily to teach students how to write, for example, good diaries in real life, but rather how to be able to produce a realistic version of a diary in an exam.

Relevant writing purposes

Links are provided to the most useful of the skills presented in the writing purposes section, for teaching approaches, examples and models.

* Materials & models ... blue boxes like this contain links to selected examples of each text type, elsewhere in the site

* Recent exam tasks ...pink boxes like this contain examples of how each text type has been set in Paper 2

****************

Article 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

* will have a semi-formal to formal register

* will have a tone appropriate to task e.g. suitably serious

* will have a relevant headline/title

* will have an introduction intended to catch the readers’ attention

* will use techniques that engage and interest readers e.g. direct address

Blog, diary entry 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

Blog

* will use a semi-formal to informal register

* will have an interesting, catchy title for the entry

* will include first person statement and/or narration

* will seek to engage the reader, eg through direct address, a lively and interesting style etc

* will have a closing statement, e.g. invitation to comment / response

Diary

* will use a generally informal register

* will include the date and/or day

* will use first person narration

* will have a closing statement to round off the entry

* will avoid self-evident explanatory phrases or sentences, e.g. will use “I saw Alicia”, not “I saw Alicia, my best friend”

Brochure, leaflet, etc 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

* will use a semi-formal to formal register

* will have an engaging title, which attracts attention

* will have a short introduction and a conclusion

* will identify ideas with format techniques such as sub-headings, bullet points, numbering etc

* will include practical aspects of the brochure like “contact us”, or “a phone number and/or an email address”.

NOTE: Graphic design as such is not marked

Essay (SL only) 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

* will adopt a semi-formal to formal register

* will have an appropriately serious tone

* will have a relevant title

* will use techniques that enable the reader to follow the arguments easily, e.g. methodical structure using cohesive devices

* will have a distinct introduction and conclusion

Interview 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

Embedded

* will adopt a semi-formal to formal register

* will have a relevant headline/title

* will have an introduction and a conclusion

* will use a style aimed at involving and interesting the reader

* will refer to the interview, including direct quotations;

NOTE: interview tasks will not be a verbatim transcript

Intro to debate, speech, etc 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

* will use a semi-formal to informal register

* will have an appropriately serious tone

* will address the audience and keep contact with them throughout (eg use of “we” and “you” etc)

* will set out to catch the audience’s attention at the beginning, and leave a clear impression at the end

* will include elements of speech rhetoric eg rhetorical questions, repetition etc.

News report 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

* will have a semi-formal to formal register

* will use a neutral/objective style (eg presents ideas without personal opinion of the writer)

* will have a title/headline

* will have an introduction and conclusion

* will have a clearly structured layout (eg sub-headings, short brief paragraphs/sections, etc)

Official report 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

* will adopt a semi-formal to formal register

* will use a neutral/objective style (eg presents ideas and facts plainly)

* will have a title

* will have a clearly structured layout (eg a clear introduction, sub-headings, short brief paragraphs/sections, etc)

* will have a conclusion or recommendation.

Proposal (HL only) 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

* will be expressed in a formal register

* will use a style aimed to persuade a specified audience

* will have a title which summarises the overall subject

* will have an introduction and a conclusion

* will set out the text clearly using features such as headings, short clear paragraphs, sections identified by letters/numbers/bullets, insetting etc.

N.B.:  the proposal may be presented within the framework of a letter / email - provided the features above are present.

Review 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

* will adopt a semi-formal register

* will use a tone and style intended to engage the reader

* will include the name of the reviewer

* will have an attractive, catchy title

* will have a short introduction and a clear conclusion

Set of instructions, guidelines 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

* will adopt a semi-formal register

* will directly address the intended audience

* will have a clear and focused heading / title

* will include a short introduction and conclusion

* will set out the guidelines clearly, using techniques such as bullets, sub-headings, numbering, etc

Written correspondence 

The following key features are likely to form the basis of marking for Paper 2, Criterion C:-

Formal Letter

* will adopt a consistently formal register

* will adopt a suitably serious and respectful tone

* will clearly identify the recipient (by name, and/or address, and/or role/title etc.)

* will have a date (and sender’s address)

* will have opening and closing salutations

Letter to the Editor

* will adopt a semi-formal to formal register

* will adopt an appropriately serious tone

* will refer to the original article/issue raised

* will give opinions in an interesting and engaging style

* will include a greeting and a closing salutation

Email

* will adopt a consistently informal register

* will adopt a lively, engaging style, perhaps with some “youth-speak” eg “I’m good”, “Can’t wait” etc

* will maintain clear sense of address to a specific person

* will have an appropriate opening salutation

* will have an appropriate closing salutation.

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