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Creating Vertical Lists in MLA Style

By Jennifer Rappaport

Although in humanities essays, lists are generally run into the text, in other types of material, a vertical list may be preferable. Vertical lists call attention to the items listed, so such lists are often desirable in pedagogical and promotional contexts. The MLA’s guidelines for styling vertical lists are derived from The Chicago Manual of Style (6.127–132). Below are examples of vertical lists—which may be unnumbered, numbered, or bulleted—and how to introduce, punctuate, and capitalize them.

Lists Introduced with a Complete Sentence 

A list may be introduced with a complete sentence followed by a colon, as in the examples below. The items in the list can be composed of complete sentences or fragments but should be consistent in using one or the other method.

List Items with Complete Sentences

If the list items are complete sentences, as in the examples below, the first letter of the first word of each item should be capitalized, and the item should be followed by closing punctuation, such as a period or question mark.

Finally, I posed the following overarching questions for students to consider throughout the semester:

How can a man embody modern, bourgeois norms of masculinity in a country still strongly tied to the ancien régime?

How do aristocratic and bourgeois models of manhood interact with one another in the Spanish realist novel?

How are working-class men depicted in Spanish realism? 

How can we apply Cartagena Calderón’s definition of the crisis of masculinity to the late-nineteenth-century Spanish context? 

List Items with Fragments

If the list items are not complete sentences and the list is numbered, capitalize the start of each item:

These raw materials can be grouped in four main areas:

  1. Early modern Christian beliefs inherited from the medieval period, indeed the very period that Shakespeare is writing about in the history plays
  2. The structure of feudal and and semifeudal society
  3. Emergent humanist ideas about history and politics imported from Renaissance Italy, especially those of Niccolò Machiavelli
  4. The key events of the Wars of the Roses and the corresponding key plot points of Shakespeare’s two tetralogies 

If the list is unnumbered or bulleted, generally lowercase the start of each item: 

These raw materials can be grouped in four main areas:

  • early modern Christian beliefs inherited from the medieval period, indeed the very period that Shakespeare is writing about in the history plays
  • the structure of feudal and and semifeudal society
  • emergent humanist ideas about history and politics imported from Renaissance Italy, especially those of Niccolò Machiavelli
  • the key events of the Wars of the Roses and the corresponding key plot points of Shakespeare’s two tetralogies

In some contexts, though, you may capitalize the first letter of the first word of each item if you wish to call attention to the items.

Lists That Continue the Sentence Introducing Them

A list may also start with a sentence continued in the list. No colon should appear before such lists.

List Items with Fragments

If the list items are not complete sentences, you can often begin each item with a lowercase letter and use no punctuation after the item.

The MLA Style Center is a free companion to the MLA Handbook. The only official Web site devoted to MLA style, it provides 

  • the opportunity to submit your own questions

  • insights about MLA style from the MLA’s editors

  • sample research papers

  • instructions on formatting research papers

  • teaching resources

  • tools for creating works-cited-list entries

List Items Punctuated like a Sentence

In formal contexts, you may use semicolons between the list items and “and” before the final item: 

The MLA is expanding its advocacy efforts by

  1. sharing urgent information with members;
  2. developing strategic partnerships; and
  3. aggregating advocacy news, calls to action, and other resources on the MLA Action Network.

Note

Sample lists taken or adapted from the MLA Web site and the following publications:  Zachary Erwin’s “Teaching Masculinity in Pardo Bazán’s Novels” (Approaches to Teaching the Writings of Emilia Pardo Bazán, edited by Margot Versteeg and Susan Walter, Modern Language Association of America, 2017, pp. 58–63) and Neema Parvini’s “Historicism ‘By Stealth’: History, Politics, and Power in Richard II and Henry IV” (Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare’s English History Plays, edited by Laurie Ellinghausen, Modern Language Association of America, 2017, pp. 94–99).

Work Cited

The Chicago Manual of Style. 17th ed., U of Chicago P, 2017, www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/book/ed17/part2/ch06/psec127.html.

Published 7 December 2018

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