Monthly Archives: November 2012

Bullet points – grammar and punctuation

Last week we talked about when to use bullet points and how to personalise them. This week, we’re going to have a look at the actual language of bullet points, including top tips on making them easy to understand for the reader. There are two parts to this: word forms / grammar and punctuation.

Punctuation in bullet points

Over recent years there has been a shift towards less punctuation and “cleaner” looking documents. I remember this being called “open” punctuation, and it’s the difference between typing an address as:

1, Avenue Gardens,


BN1 1AA.


1 Avenue Gardens



Of course there is a place for punctuation, but it can get a bit messy looking, and I’m all for clean lines as long as you don’t forget your semi colons within normal runs of text!

So, here are some things not to do. We never introduce a list in a sentence with a semi colon, and we don’t introduce a bulleted or numbered list with one, either.

It used to be the case that we included semi colons and even “and”s at the end of every line. But I think that does look old-fashioned and cluttered nowadays …

Regarding the full stop at the end of the last bullet point … well, the jury is out on that one. It’s one of those style choices that don’t have a specific rule. I’ve checked in my New Oxford Style Manual and my Oxford Guide to Plain English: the former doesn’t talk about the punctuation much at all, and the latter has some general standards to consider following.

Here are my suggestions:

  • If the bullet points come in the middle of a sentence, and it is still clear when you read that sentence even though it’s got bullets in the middle, you can
    • start each bullet point with a lower case letter
    • put a full stop at the end.
  • If the bullet points are very short and don’t form a sentence, like this:
    • Start with a capital
    • Don’t add full stops
    • Use full stops sparingly
  • It is fine to add a full stop at the end of each bullet if the bullet points are long and include:
    • More than one line of text which therefore forms a solid block when you look at it on the page.
    • More than one sentence. It would look odd to have a full stop there and not here.

In summary:

But the single most important thing to do is KEEP IT CONSISTENT within each bulleted list! If you use capital letters or lower case letters to start each bullet, keep them the same throughout. If you end the first bullet with a full stop, end each of them with a full stop.

But of course, you can use different styles for different lists, as the context demands, although I’d be wary of having wildly different ones very close together, as it can look messy.

And this point on keeping it consistent brings me on to …

Grammar in bullet points

We insert bullet points into a text to make it more easy for the reader to understand. This means that the grammar within the bullet points should be consistent, so the reader doesn’t end up scratching their head and going over and over the same bit of text, trying to work it out.

Have a look at this example, and you’ll see what I mean:

Even if the reader can understand the basic sense of this, the uncomfortable disconnect between the different grammatical forms bring the reader’s attention to the form of the text and not the meaning of its content. And that’s not what good, clear writing should do. However, this is one of the most common mistakes I find in the text I proofread and edit. Especially if the bulleted list is long, the writer will lose track part way through and start going all inconsistent.

This is what that list above should look like:

Nice and tidy: everything following the same structure.

The grammar of bullet points must be consistent and matching so that the reader is not confused. It’s a different matter with the punctuation, which is, when it comes down to it, more of a matter of choice. Personally, I prefer capital letters and no full stop in my bullet points, which is why, if you’re my client and your bullet point punctuation is a little inconsistent, you’ll find me using that as standard!

So now you know all about how to insert and customise bulleted and numbered lists, and the grammar and punctuation to use with them! I hope you have found this helpful.

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here

Do let me know if this has helped you – and do share with the buttons at the bottom of this article.


Posted by on November 28, 2012 in Language use, New skills, Short cuts, Writing


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Homonym, homophone or homograph?

A timely post, as I was discussing this, with examples, at home yesterday evening. Yes, that’s how we like to have fun here at Libro Towers: a bit of etymology of an evening …

We’ve already had one pair where I explain the difference between homo and hetero, so we know that the prefix “homo” will essentially introduce a word that’s all about two things being the same. But what happens when those words themselves all look horribly similar?

These three are quite similar-looking technical words used in English literature and linguistics. It is important to know the difference if you are working in these fields.

Homonyms have the same spelling or pronunciation but different meanings (the word comes from the Greek – having the same name), for example, pole and Pole, pear and pare, but also bass and bass. The homonym is the main class of words, divided into homophones and homographs.

Homophones have the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins or spellings, new and knew, beat and beet, fair and fare.

Homographs have the same spelling but different meanings, with either different pronunciations or the same pronunciation – for example bass (the deep singer) and bass (the fish), or cleave (separate) and cleave (join together).

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Annex or annexe?

I’ve been working on a document that described a number of buildings with annexes, and I have to admit that I had to look this up, just to check. Well, to be honest, I look up a lot of things to check them, as I’d always rather get it right, oddly enough (one of these days I’ll write a post about a word that I’ve always thought is a word, but doesn’t actually exist …)

So, to annex is a verb, never has an e on the end, and means to add as an extra part or to appropriate territory. I can’t give an example of the latter without getting all political, but you could have a set of tables and a document they refer to, and decide to annex the tables to the document rather than present them separately. That’s an acceptable, discrete verb form, not one that’s been oddly made out of a noun (like “to inbox” – ugh) as far as I know.

An annexe, the noun, is an addition to a document or building. Now, I have to admit that I thought the difference lay here, and that the e was only added for a building. But all of my good old Oxford sources say no, it’s used for both. So, “The table was added as Annexe 1 to our document”; “Coffee will be served in the annexe to the church”.

Or, you can just skip the e there altogether. But you know me: I like to maintain different forms of words to preserve the variety of our language. So I say verb: no e; noun: add that e. Add it as an annexe, if you will!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


Posted by on November 23, 2012 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Bullet points – how and when to use them

It’s Word Tips time and today I’m going to talk about bullet points – why we use them and how to use and format them. Next week, I’m going to treat you to some tips about how the language and punctuation of bullet pointed text works. But for now …

Why do we use bullet points?

Bullet points help to make what you’re saying more clear. They break up blocks of text into tidy chunks so the reader can take in what you’re saying. They present lists in a clear format so people can see it’s a list. They emphasise points you want to emphasise. They show the organisation of things. In short:

  • They’re useful
  • They’re tidy
  • They’re good at emphasising things
  • They make sure the reader knows this is a list

How do I use bullet points in Word?

In Word, you want to be in the Home Tab. Then, look at the Paragraph section and you’ll find a set of useful little buttons. One has a list of dots, one has a list of numbers, one has an indenting list of numbers, and two have paragraphs and arrows:

These are the buttons you need to make your bullet pointed lists.

So, here’s a plain list without any bullet points. To make a list bulleted, you need to highlight the areas you need to change. So in this example, we want to leave the first line alone and highlight the other ones:

Once we have the lines highlighted, we can click on the bullets button (just in the middle of the button for the time being) to make the highlighted lines into bullet points:

You can do the same but hit the number button to the right of the bullets button – now we get a numbered list:

How do I create sub-bullet points?

What if you want nested bullet points in sub-categories? That’s fine – put your list into bullets, then select just the line you want to change and click on the Increase Indent key to move it along one. You’ll see the bullet point itself (or the number) change when you do this.

There’s another way to do this (of course there is!) – get your cursor just before the first letter of the first word of the line you want to indent and hit the Tab key on your keyboard. You will get the same effect.

How do I customise my bullets and numbering?

You may not like the standard bullet points you’re given by Word. That’s fine, because you can customise them.

The bullet and number button each have a tiny arrow on the right-hand side of the button. Try clicking on the one on the bullet button …

… and you’ll get a choice of different bullet markers you can use. If you click on Define New Bullet, you can even upload your own images to use as bullet points: useful if you’re creating a document that needs to be on brand with the rest of your brand identity, for example.

You can do this with the numbers, too, allowing you to choose between letters, Arabic numbers and Roman numerals:

Again, you can define your own new number format if you want to.

Customising the list style

To go just that little bit deeper into customisation, you can also fully customise how the sub-bullets work and even set a new Style for this document or all future documents.

To do this, we use the Multilevel List button. This one’s a bit of a swizz, I think – it gives you a tiny arrow on the right, but it doesn’t actually matter where on the button you click; you will still get the same menu.

So this gives you the chance to choose between different multi-level list formats and to define your own.

If you select Define New Mulitlevel List you will be given a new set of options. Choose this if you just want to change one list in your document.

If you want to define a style for all of the lists in your document, or a new List Style to use in all documents forever, choose Define New List Style.

Then you can go ahead and crate a new list style that will appear in your Styles on your Home tab, and can be used for lists in just this document, or documents from now on.

We’ve learned how to set up and customise bulleted and numbered lists.

Next week, we’ll look at the text you write in lists and how to make sure that works clearly and appropriately.

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here

Do let me know if this has helped you – and do share with the buttons at the bottom of this article.


Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Copyediting, Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word, Writing


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Invite or invitation?

I have come across this rather more times than I’d like recently. If anyone remembers the short-lived Libro character, Ranting Ron, who turned out to be too negative for this nice, friendly, supportive blog, he would have been ranting about this one ..

Invite is a verb. It means to ask someone to go somewhere or do something, and can be informal (“she invited me to go for a coffee after yoga”) or formal (“Mr and Mrs Perkins invite you to the wedding of their daughter, Polly”). It can also be used to refer to eliciting a response of some kind – “I would like to invite questions from the audience”. Full stop.

Invitation is a noun. It’s a written or verbal request inviting someone to go somewhere or do something. It’s the bit of card that is used to do this, which Mr and Mrs Perkins will send to you when they want to invite you to their daughter’s wedding. Invitation is the noun to invite’s verb.

Now, I have to admit that the esteemed Oxford dictionaries do admit that there is an Informal use of invite to mean invitation. But I don’t think we need that, do we? Let’s keep the distinction and keep it all nice. OK?

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


Posted by on November 16, 2012 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Ocular or oscular

Is it the eyes or is it the mouth? I have to admit that this is a bit of a cheeky one, inspired by the ramblings of a group of vision scientists who were discussing vision and kissing … but what’s the point of having even a fairly serious work blog if you can’t be cheeky occasionally. So this one is dedicated to Matt, Arthur, Dicle, Matthew, Aidan and their chums …

Ocular means of or related to the eyes or vision.

Oscular, in its “humorous” sense (according to the Oxford dictionaries, whose sense of humour may be slightly ponderous) refers to kissing. In its zoological sense, it means something related to the osculum. And the osculum, dear readers, is a large aperture in a sponge from which water is expelled (from Latin os, mouth: diminutive, osculum, little mouth). Now, if that hasn’t killed the romance, I don’t know what will …

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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Changing the language in Word comment boxes

I have already published a detailed post on how to customise your comment boxes/balloons. This issue came up for me the other day, and I wanted to note down some quick instructions. Please note these instructions are for Word 2010 and upwards for Windows and may not work in other versions.

Why are my comment balloons in a different language?

In my case, I was running a final spell-check over a document when I suddenly realised that my comment balloons were in Australian English (I realised this when the spell-checker switched over to Australian English while taking exception to a word I had not, in fact, mis-typed).

Why would this be? Well, the formatting of the comment balloons comes under its own Style, separate from normal text, so at some stage this document, or the computer it came from, or the template the author was using, had come to have Australian English as the comment box language.

How did I get it back to UK English?

How do I change the comment balloon language?

Follow the normal steps for updating the comment balloon style, so get to the styles menu by

  • Pressing Control + Alt + Shift + s all at the same time
  • Making sure you’re in the Home tab and click on the little tiny arrow at the bottom right of the Styles menu

This gives you the Styles dialogue box.

Using either of these methods, you will bring up the Styles dialogue box.

Click on the rightmost button: Manage Styles to bring up the next box: Manage Styles. To get to Comment Balloons: click on the down arrow to change As Recommended to Alphabetical:

Once you’ve got the list into alphabetical order, find Comment text, and then click on the Modify button. 

Click the Format button and choose Language

And change the language:

And then all the OK buttons to get back.

You can also choose whether this change applies only to this document, or to all documents based on this template, and add it to your Quick Styles list if you want:

Press the OK button, and carry on pressing OK buttons until you get back to your document. Now your comment box language will be whatever you asked it to be!

Why not take a look at these related topics, which should help you further?

Customising comments balloons

What to do if your comment boxes go tiny in Word

What to do if your comment boxes start running from right to left

Customising Track Changes

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here

Do let me know if this has helped you, saved your bacon, etc. – and do share with the buttons at the bottom of this article.


Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Copyediting, New skills, Students, Word, Writing


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A week-long series over on the Other Blog …

It’s three-tops cold!

As the weather is getting colder and I settle in to my 11th month of full-time self-employment, I’m running a series of blog posts over on the Libro Full Time blog about what homeworkers wear. I’m musing about standards, keeping up appearances, changing from corporate wear to home wear, and whether appearances matter when you’re hiring me for my brain, over the next week, as well as sharing what I’m wearing and encouraging other homeworkers to do so, too.

Do pop over and say hello; you can sign up to subscribe or add the blog to your reader if you haven’t done already, or just dip in and out.

Watch this space for more Word tips on this blog later in the week … Otherwise, I’ll see you over there!

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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in Blogging