2

In my writing, I tend to format lists of items:

The school has a vegetable garden in which the children grow cabbages, onions, potatoes, and carrots during their free time.

as actual vertical lists:

The school has a vegetable garden in which the children grow

  • cabbages,
  • onions,
  • potatoes, and
  • carrots

during their free time.

However, major document markup languages, such as HTML and Markdown, do not allow vertical content in paragraphs [1], i.e. the above text is actually internally represented as two separate paragraphs with a list in between. This, in turn, makes it difficult to style a web page to e.g. indent the first line of a paragraph without somehow extending the markup. Is this a deficiency in HTML and Markdown, or is the above use of lists rare / generally discouraged?

  • 1
    For HTML, this is indeed a feature (or "deficiency", if you like). Paragraphs are supposed to have only horizontal-flowing content. If you want content with vertical arrangement, a different kind of container (like <div> is required). – Alexander Mar 9 '18 at 0:23
  • Technically, you can use CSS to turn your option (2) into option (1) as a matter of formatting. However, it might not always end up flowing quite like it would if you had written it originally as you did option (1). – a CVn Mar 9 '18 at 11:51
  • @MichaelKjörling Not without additional ad-hoc markup (i.e. <div class="actual-paragraph">…</div> elements) that will distinguish the case where the list terminates a paragraph from the case where the list occurs in the middle of a paragraph. – Witiko Mar 9 '18 at 11:56
3

While you can structure a list within a sentence this way, it's typically frowned upon. The preferred style would be to preempt the list with a complete thought that describes the list which follows it and treat that list as a break between thoughts. If you choose to have a vertical list you're saying it's important enough to be its own element and therefor draw the eye and break up a text. So, while it could be within a sentence, it often isn't and wouldn't be published that way without extremely good cause (or a desire to just muck with convention for art's sake).

<p>Lots of a text goes here. Perhaps multiple sentances. But I'm about to make a point. And now I'm making it. Here's a list that describes the options:</p>
<ul>
<li>Item 1</li>
<li>Item 2</li>
</ul>
<p>New paragraph begins here.</p>

Lots of a text goes here. Perhaps multiple sentances. But I'm about to make a point. And now I'm making it. Here's a list that describes the options:

  • Item 1
  • Item 2

New paragraph begins here.

2

It depends on the context. In technical writing, using the list format is generally preferred. In a novel, you would always keep the list inline. In popular non-fiction you will find both styles used.

There are some markup language that will allow you to enter a list as a substructure within a paragraph.

<p>The school has a vegetable garden in which the children grow
<ul>
<li>cabbages,</li>
<li>onions,</li>
<li>potatoes, and</li>
<li>carrots</li>
</ul>
during their free time.</p>

Lightweight markup languages like Markdown, however, don't have an easy way to represent the difference between a list being inside as opposed to after a paragraph. The distinction is a sufficiently subtle one that most authors are probably not going to do it consistently anyway, so might want to avoid formatting that depends on it, or else avoid writing the paragraph in a way that puts the list in the middle. It is usually pretty easy to recast things so that the list comes at the end:

<p>The school has a vegetable garden in which 
the children can spend their free time growing:
<ul>
<li>cabbages,</li>
<li>onions,</li>
<li>potatoes, and</li>
<li>carrots</li>
</ul>
</p>

And once you recast it like this, the difference between the list being in or under the paragraph becomes moot and you can just as easily do this:

<p>The school has a vegetable garden in which 
the children can spend their free time growing:</p>
<ul>
<li>cabbages,</li>
<li>onions,</li>
<li>potatoes, and</li>
<li>carrots</li>
</ul>

BTW, when it comes to lists, it is common practice not to carry sentence punctuation over into the list. Think of the list as an alternate form of punctuation. Therefore you should drop the commas and the 'and'.

<p>The school has a vegetable garden in which 
the children can spend their free time growing:</p>
<ul>
<li>cabbages</li>
<li>onions</li>
<li>potatoes</li>
<li>carrots</li>
</ul>
  • Why would you say that technical writing – and to a lesser degree non-fiction – is partial to bullet lists? – Witiko Mar 25 '18 at 18:52
  • 1
    @witiko because technical writing, and much of non fiction is not read through from beginning to end. People scan for the information they are looking for and dip in where they find it. Bullet lists are easier to scan. – Mark Baker Mar 25 '18 at 18:59

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