Punctuation, Bullets

Consult a dictionary or usage guide for more detailed information about punctuation.

apostrophe — Use an apostrophe in possessive forms of nouns, contractions, omitted figures, or plurals of single letters. It was the student’s (one student) book. The students’ (all the students) classes were canceled. We don’t (do not) have class this week. It dates back to the ’90s (1990s). She got all A’s. (It could be confused with the word “As.”) Note: An apostrophe is never used to form a plural for multiple letters or numerals.

colon — Use to set off lists. Space once after a colon. Capitalize the first word after a colon if it is a proper noun or the beginning of a complete sentence. He likes only three kinds of vegetables: corn, beans, and potatoes. The city council voted on one item: Should we approve the rezoning request?

comma — Use a comma before the conjunction (and, or) in a list: corn, wheat, and sorghum. In newspaper columns, follow AP style and do not use a comma before and in a series. If one unit of a series contains commas, use semicolons between units. Plots were planted on April 1, 15, and 30; May 1 and 15; and June 1. For an exception, see cultivar names.

ellipsis — Use an ellipsis (. . .) to indicate where words have been deleted in quotes or other text. Leave one space on each side of an ellipsis. Be careful not to distort the meaning when condensing quotes or text. Tom Jones . . . gave the presentation. In informal usage, the ellipsis shows an incomplete thought. Avoid this usage in most professional and academic writing.

hyphens and dashes — Use a hyphen in preceding modifiers: winter-hardy plant, 10-mL tube; 5-year-old child. Do not hyphenate when the modifier follows the noun. The plant is winter hardy. Do not hyphenate modifiers that end in “ly”: carefully prepared experiment.
Use a hyphen with numbers and measurements that modify a noun: a 3-year-old child, an 8-foot board, a 1½-pound roast. But don’t hyphenate numbers and measurements when they aren’t used as modifiers. Sally is 3 years old. The roast weighs 1½ pounds. The board is 8 feet long.

Suspensive hyphenation is used to show a range that modifies a noun. Note the space before and after the word to. The class is for 9- to 13-year-olds. In general, do not use a hyphen with common prefixes (pre, post, sub). Check a dictionary if you are uncertain.
When using hyphenated forms in titles or headings, capitalize the parts of the hyphenated word after the hyphen unless it is a preposition, article, or coordinating conjunction: No-Till Rotations, Multi-Year Research, Run-of-the-Mill Answers.
Do not use a hyphen instead of a dash. The general rule for dashes is that an em dash (the longer dash) signals a change of thought in a sentence. We plan to visit Paris this fall — if we can afford it. An en dash denotes ranges: May 2–4, 2009, see pages 81–110.
However, use the word “to” to denote range in most text: 6 to 10 miles, 12 to 18 inches. Most K-State Research and Extension publications and news releases follow AP style for dashes, so a space precedes and follows an em dash.

latitude and longitude — Use the prime (′) and double prime symbols (″) for minutes rather than single and double quotation marks.

period — Use at the end of a sentence and in some abbreviations. Space once after a period in electronic type.

quotation marks — Use to enclose quoted material. Quotes are always placed outside periods and commas. Other punctuation — question marks, exclamation points, dashes, and semicolons — is placed inside quotation marks when it applies only to the quoted material and outside when it applies to the whole sentence. I enjoyed reading "Jane Eyre." "Where did they go?" she asked. For a quotation that continues for more than one paragraph, use the open quotation mark at the beginning of each paragraph, but use the close quotation mark only at the end of the last paragraph.

semicolon — Use to clarify a series or link independent clauses. Use a semicolon when items in a series contain commas. She is survived by a daughter, Mary Johnson, Clay Center; three sons, Bill Smith, of Manhattan, Tom Smith, of Denver, and Joe Smith, of Wichita; and a brother, Walter Jones, of Riley.
Use a semicolon with independent clauses that show related or contrasting thoughts. Recent rain has benefited the crops; more of the wheat is rated “good to excellent” now. This summer’s weather has seemed cooler than usual; however, there’s still time for it to get hot again.


Bullet points or numbered vertical lists convey steps in a process or points to be highlighted. These guidelines follow general rules of the Chicago Manual of Style:
  • If possible, introduce the list with a complete sentence (as above) — that is, one that doesn’t need to be completed by the list.
  • Be consistent within bulleted lists and between the bulleted lists in a document.
  • Items in the list should be parallel in construction. (• Stop walking, • Look both ways, • Cross carefully)
  • Items do not need to be complete sentences.
  • In the case of a bulleted list that consists of incomplete sentences, each item starts with a lowercase letter and needs no terminal punctuation ( dogs).
  • Periods are not required for items in a list, unless one item is a complete sentence. Then all items should be treated as complete sentences, beginning with capital letters and ending with periods.
  • If a list completes the introductory sentence, items begin with lowercase letters and conclude with a comma or semicolon. The final item in the list concludes with a period.
  • Items in numbered lists should begin with a number followed by a period, then a space, then a capital letter (1. Be consistent).