Punctuating Embedded Lists in Scholarly Documents
Lists are often used in academic and scientific writing to present information in a clear and orderly fashion for readers. Whether the material a scholarly author wants to communicate is short and relatively simple or long and extremely complicated, an effectively laid out list can increase the accessibility and impact of the material, which can also prove more interesting and memorable when presented in a well-organised list. Lists can be either embedded in the main body of an academic or scientific document, or displayed by being set off from the main text. In both cases punctuation that distinguishes the separate items and helps to clarify their relationship to each other is absolutely essential for a successful list.
Embedded lists follow the rules governing normal sentence structure and are particularly appropriate when the items are not excessively complex. In its simplest form, a list in running text that correctly completes a sentence requires no special punctuation and no numbers or letters to mark individual items, as in ‘She brought pens, pencils and paper’ and ‘Our study focussed on scribes, marginalia, and scripts.’ A comma can be used (as in the second example) or not (as in the first) before the conjunction ‘and’ that precedes the final item, but this should match the usage pattern for serial commas elsewhere in the document. Even if no serial comma is normally used, one may still be needed at times to avoid ambiguity when a compound item joined by a conjunction appears before the main conjunction in a list. In ‘She brought pens, blue and red ink, and pencils,’ for instance, the serial comma is necessary before the final ‘and’ to avoid the implication that the ‘pencils’ were also ‘blue and red.’
If the opening or introductory part of the sentence containing a list does not lead naturally into the list (with a verb or preposition, for instance), but forms an independent clause, a colon is normally used to introduce the list part of the sentence, as it is in the following example. ‘The paper was a team effort: David conducted the research, Emily analysed the data and Amanda drafted the text.’ If an embedded list is brief or informal, a dash (en rule or em rule) can be used instead of the colon, as in ‘She brought what we needed – pens, pencils and paper,’ but since the dash tends to imply an aside or afterthought rather than a main idea, a colon is the better choice in most cases. The two should certainly not be used together, with the dash following the colon, as they once were in scholarly prose.
When one (or more) of the items in an embedded list is especially long or contains internal commas, semicolons should be used instead of commas to separate the individual items. In such cases a semicolon should appear before the conjunction preceding the final item even if a serial comma is not normally used in the document. My next sentence provides an example, but embedded lists with this structure can be much longer and more complex. ‘The paper was a team effort, with everyone contributing their best: David had designed the methodology, so he conducted the research; Emily has taken several courses in statistics, so she analysed the data; and Amanda was working on her English degree, so she drafted the text.’
Finally, numbers or letters can be added to an embedded list to achieve a clearer division or to establish a hierarchy of order or importance. Arabic numerals (1,2,3 etc.) are better for this task than Roman numerals (I, II, III etc.), which can prove cumbersome in embedded lists and are best avoided unless publisher or instructor guidelines demand them. Letters are also appropriate, and usually appear in a lowercase format (a,b,c etc.), sometimes set in italic or bold font (though that aspect may not show up in my final example here). ‘Our study focussed on (1) scribes, (2) marginalia and (3) scripts” or ‘The paper was a team effort: (a) David had designed the methodology, so he conducted the research; (b) Emily has taken several courses in statistics, so she analysed the data; and (c) Amanda was working on her English degree, so she drafted the text.’ Whether numerals or letters are used, they should be enclosed in parentheses to clarify their function.
Why Our Editing and Proofreading Services?
At Proof-Reading-Service.com we offer the highest quality journal article editing, phd thesis editing and proofreading services via our large and extremely dedicated team of academic and scientific professionals. All of our proofreaders are native speakers of English who have earned their own postgraduate degrees, and their areas of specialisation cover such a wide range of disciplines that we are able to help our international clientele with research editing to improve and perfect all kinds of academic manuscripts for successful publication. Many of the carefully trained members of our expert editing and proofreading team work predominantly on articles intended for publication in scholarly journals, applying painstaking journal editing standards to ensure that the references and formatting used in each paper are in conformity with the journal’s instructions for authors and to correct any grammar, spelling, punctuation or simple typing errors. In this way, we enable our clients to report their research in the clear and accurate ways required to impress acquisitions proofreaders and achieve publication.
Our scientific proofreading services for the authors of a wide variety of scientific journal papers are especially popular, but we also offer manuscript proofreading services and have the experience and expertise to proofread and edit manuscripts in all scholarly disciplines, as well as beyond them. We have team members who specialise in medical proofreading services, and some of our experts dedicate their time exclusively to PhD proofreading and master’s proofreading, offering research students the opportunity to improve their use of formatting and language through the most exacting PhD thesis editing and dissertation proofreading practices. Whether you are preparing a conference paper for presentation, polishing a progress report to share with colleagues, or facing the daunting task of editing and perfecting any kind of scholarly document for publication, a qualified member of our professional team can provide invaluable assistance and give you greater confidence in your written work.
If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.