Nonfiction books and instruction booklets often contain numerous lists. Lists are helpful for displaying information in an organized, easy-to-read format. They are great for prioritizing as well as categorizing products and services.
Bucket List Types of Buckets
- Mop bucket
- Window washer bucket
- Beach sand bucket
- Hotel ice bucket
- Storage bucket
- Old, beat-up vehicle
- Successful basketball shot
When making a list, several aspects are important to consider.
After creating a rough draft of your list, first review the title or intro to the listed items. Pinpoint the basic category in which all of your list items fit. Notice that I’ve underlined the base word in each of the following list titles that identifies what every item in a list with that title would have in common.
- Why an author writes a book
- The only twelve exercises you need to get in shape
- Top ten video game characters
- Ten steps to starting a small business
- Countries that border only one other country
Therefore, the first list would include a list of reasons, not a list of book titles or genres. List number two would include a list of exercises, not a list of equipment or ways to get in shape. The third list would include characters from video games, not titles of video games. The next list would include actions, not a list of occupations or expenses. And the final list would include countries, not continents or provinces.
Now review each item on your list, making sure that
- all items fit the list title or category,
- all items are specific and complete,
- verb tenses are consistent for items that involve actions,
- prepositions are used properly,
- only essential items are included, and
- redundancy is avoided.
If your content/writing is intentionally humorous, some of these rules might not apply, but all items should at least fit the list category.
Next, I provide several examples of lists to demonstrate how these rules can be applied.
Notice the subtle differences between the first two lists, even though both are about the same subject. I’ve underlined the base word in each title. The first list includes resolutions or statements about what the writer has resolved to do. Each item completes the thought, “I resolve to ______.” The second list includes actions that complete the thought, “I plan on ______.” The verbs in this list end in ‑ing because each phrase directly follows the proposition “on.”
New Year’s Resolutions Lose weight Get organized Save money Quit smoking Fall in love Eat healthier Exercise more
This year, I plan on losing weight getting organized saving money quitting smoking falling in love eating healthier exercising more
In the following two lists, the first one is a list of reasons or motivations. If you asked an author why they wrote their book, their responses would begin with either “to” or “for.” So, each item is prefaced with the appropriate preposition. The second list contains actions that books may accomplish. So, each item begins with a verb and completes the thought, “Books can _____.”
Each list includes items that follow all of the rules noted above. Notice, however, that items are NOT interchangeable between the two list titles/categories.
Why an author writes a book To tell a story To teach a skill To educate To entertain To express ideas For personal fulfillment For fame and fortune
Books can tell a story teach a skill educate entertain express ideas provide personal fulfillment lead to fame and fortune
For the next list, problems are noted directly underneath each item.
What does a book editor do?
- Read various types of books
- non-essential; delete
- Correct grammar and spelling
- verb tense
- Punctuation and spacing
- doesn’t fit title
- To improve awkward, confusing language
- preposition, verb tense
- Replaces overused or non-descriptive words
- verb tense
- Charge based on word count
- doesn’t fit new category; delete
- Provide feedback
- not specific, incomplete
- Advice about plot, setting, characterization, dialogue
- verb tense
- Research titles, names and quotations
- verb tense, incomplete
- Correct verb tense inconsistencies
- redundant; delete (correcting verb tenses = grammar)
After corrections, here’s the new list:
Essential Book Editing Services
- Correcting grammar and spelling
- Correcting punctuation and spacing
- Rephrasing awkward or confusing language
- Replacing overused or non-descriptive words
- Providing feedback about tone, organization, and structure.
- Providing feedback about plot, setting, characterization, and dialogue
- Researching accuracy of titles, names and quotations
All of these examples demonstrate various ways in which lists can be greatly improved for clarity.
To learn about proper list punctuation, check out the following links: