How to list things in an essay?

Essays generally follow a strict structure, but every so often, something comes along to mess with that structure. Essays may need to include lists that can throw off the design, structure, and grammar of the piece. With that said, readers generally grasp your point quickly when adding a list of subtopics or themes, lists of recommendations; steps of analysis; components of an item, and the like. The key to including lists in an essay is to use the right punctuation and grammar and stick to the same grammatical style.

For Standard Lists

Use a new sentence or independent clause to introduce the list. Use a colon to signal that the list will be a long one, or use commas to separate items in a short list. If you have to separate the items in the list, then a semicolon splits items of over three words and items with commas in them.

You can start a shorter list from within a sentence using a dash. Dashes are informal pieces of punctation that indicate a sudden change in a sentence. Let’s look at an example; Eyes all share common features – optic nerves, pupils, and retinas. Always use a colon if you are debating between using a dash and a colon. A colon is more stylish and professional, but a dash can get the job done.

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For Numbered Lists

Numbered lists are a little different. Here, you begin with a sentence that introduces the list, followed by numerals and periods for the different steps. Let’s look at an example;

How to Bake a Cake:

  1. Gather ingredients
  2. Preheat the oven
  3. Grease the cake pans

Bullet points can be used if items don’t need to be listed in a particular order. The main thing is to include the introductory sentence or paragraph. Numbered lists take up a lot of space, and so should justify that space usage. Readers may assume a list was used to fill up space and artificially lengthen an essay if the list is too long.

How to Include Lists in an MLA Essay

It is possible to include numbered lists in an MLA essay, but avoiding lists as much as possible is recommended. There are a few different ways you can include lists in your essay, so you should ask your professor what their preference is.

In the Sentence

Writing a list into a sentence is one way to include them with MLA essays. Use a colon to introduce the list in the sentence and then use commas or semicolons to split the list up. You can number items in the list by using parentheses without the “and” at the end. Here’s an example:

Many British actors have played American characters: (1) Hugh Laurie/Doctor House; (2) Daniel Day-Lewis/Daniel Plainview; (3) Gary Oldman/Lee Harvey Oswald.

In a Block

Blockquotes are handy for longer lists and lists with long articles. Here’s an example of how to use block quotes to list items in an MLA essay:

Several literary classics were published posthumously:

  1. The Ivory Tower, by Henry James
  2. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R Tolkien
  3. Billy Budd, Sailor, by Herman Melville

Start the list off with a colon and indent items in the list further than the stand indentation to indicate the list. Include a period and space after each number and finish items off with a period if they are a complete sentence.

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