Guide On How to List Things in an Essay

The thing is, most readers don’t read your web and mobile content word by word. Instead, their eyes on instinct scan your content for critical points using various eye patterns. One of which is the popular F-shaped pattern. This pattern follows a list structure by scanning the first and second sentences continuously. Thereafter it lays exclusive emphasis on the salient points to the left-hand side. So, if you’re looking for a solution on how to list things in an essay, consider it.

But list that essential, to a point you would need to factor in your readers’ eye scanning patterns?

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Yes, without overemphasizing the fact, lists influence the quality of your essay writing. In works of fiction and essays, lists evoke a sense of place or character. While in business and technical writing, they relay concise facts and information. Lists allow you to emphasize important ideas and direct the reader to them.

Thus, your reader doesn’t need to fumble or exert effort to enjoy your content. It’s also not realistic to imagine that compelling content is enough to draw in your reader. It’s would thus be beneficial if you learned how to format and structure your content for broad appeal.

For an inkling into what dictates the way readers consume your content, here are some pointers;

  • Reader’s motivation – the urgent need for specific information
  • Goals – there’s an objective to be met and your content has the solution
  • The layout of the page and formatting of text – if it’s simple and easy on the eye, you’ll get traction
  • Page content – must be engaging and resourceful

To control these factors, you need to know the different types of lists available and how to use them. This article, therefore, shares a guide on how to write a list in an essay by using various popular lists (and essay formats).

Antidotes on how to list

Your primary concern is to make your essay a valuable resource to the reader. For this, there are general rules on content format and structure. Here are some of them:

  • Ensure essential points feature in the first two paragraphs of each page
  • Use headings and subheadings and ensure they are clear and prominent
  • Weighty words should be at the beginning of your headings and subheadings
  • Use bullets, numbers, or letters to call out the items on a list
  • Make every word count by cutting out unnecessary content

Examples of lists in writing

The format for most essays depends on the nature of the subject topic. If your topic appears in the form of a list, it’s advisable to write a list essay. A list (also known as a catalog or inventory) is a series of images, details, or facts.  To know how to list things in an essay, here’s a breakdown of popular lists to use.

1.     Standard lists

If you’re wondering how to write a list on a paper, you can start by using a new sentence or an independent clause. This type of list is known as a standard list. If your list is long, use a colon to make an indication of this. If it is a shortlist, use commas to separate the items. If you want a semicolon instead of a comma, use it only to split items with more than three words.

You can also start a shorter list from within a sentence with a dash. A dash helps show sudden changes in a sentence’s structure. But remember, between a colon and dash, a colon holds more weight. To give a clear example, sample this.

The digestive system consists of – the esophagus, large and small intestines.

2.     Bullet lists

As one of the most common lists, almost everyone is familiar with the bullets list. It’s pretty handy when you need to list items in no particular order. A bullet list is indeed one to consider if you’re wondering how to start a list in an essay. It’s useful when you want to break up a block of text for readability. The beauty of it being brevity. The bulleted point should be a short word or phrase. If this isn’t the case, you’ll need to consider another style.

Something to remember: An essential element of the bulleted list is the lead-in line. And it’s a

phrase, clause, or sentence that introduces a vertical, bulleted list. It’s quite helpful when you need a solution on how to introduce a list in an essay. The lead-in line typically appears after the headline and immediately before the first bullet point.

See more details on what you need to know about using bullet points.

  • They express clarity and promise
  • Keep them symmetrical and aligned
  • Keep it simple, don’t splash it on your headings and subheadings
  • Be consistent in your use of grammar
  • Capitalize the first word that follows a bullet point
  • If  your bullet point precedes a short sentence, add a period in the end
  • Short phrases or incomplete sentences don’t need periods

3.     Numbered lists

When you need to denote items that have a particular order, your best bet on how to list them is a numbered list. For instance, when taking your reader through the steps of a diet plan, use a numbered list. This helps to give clarity to the reader to ensure they get your key message.

A numbered list also renders credence to a chronology of events. It ensures your reader keeps track of the critical issues at each stage. The items to list can be single sentences or whole paragraphs. In each case, capitalize the first letter of the first word and include a period in the end.

4.     In sentence lists

As the name suggests, an in-sentence list comes in handy when you need to maintain a paragraph style all through. You could also consider it if your list is brief and fits into a sentence.  The other option would be to use it if you want to avoid running endless lists.

Need to know how to start a list in an essay, using an in-sentence list? Introduce the sentence using a colon. To split the list, utilize commas or semicolons. If you need to number, use parentheses. Below is an example of an in-sentence list.


Twinkie is a puppy that enjoys: (a) playing with its tail, (b) howling at night, (c) chasing cats (d) digging up the yard.

5.     Labeled lists

This list can also be referred to as a vertical list with run-in headings. You can use numbers or bullets to break up the content in point form in this type of list. It’s useful when you want to expound on an issue or give an explanation. To ensure the label you want to highlight stands out, you can; underline, bold, or italicize it and close with a colon.


Here is a clear illustration of how to list with a labeled list.


  1. Neurology: This is the branch of medicine or biology that deals with the nervous system…

2: Psychology: This is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions…

6.     Nested lists

Simply put, a nested list is an ordered or an unordered list whose items are lists by themselves. Nested lists are useful when organizing your content into sublists, for instance, in a menu structure or hierarchical information. Nested lists could also be the best solution for how to list questions in an essay.

7.     Reference lists

If you only want to cite the sources instrumental to your essay, a reference list is ideal. Every quote, paraphrase, summary, or outside citation must be in your reference list.

The reference list makes it easier for your readers to refer to your sources and it also gives them credit. All citations must feature in the reference list except for private communication. To incorporate this listing in an essay, you can create it with a lettered or numbered list.

8.     Bibliography

This is like a reference list but differs in that it lists all the sources used in your essay. It includes your name (as the author), the titles of the works, the companies’ names, and locations that published your copies of the sources.

While writing a bibliography, the requirement on how to list is to write the sources in alphabetical order using the author’s last name. If there’s more than one author to a citation, arrange alphabetically using the first one. If an author is unknown, organize alphabetically using that source using the title instead.

Essay style formats

Lists are only functional in a well-formatted presentation with exceptional content. Essay formats help to standardize the aesthetics of written pieces. Below are the typical style essay formats for your reference.

1.     MLA essay format

The Modern Language Association created the MLA style is the most popular essay format for college paper assignments. Its initial target was literature and language students, but it now includes all disciplines, especially humanities.

Its popularity stems from its simplicity and ease of use, with no complications. You don’t need titling, just a header in the upper left-hand corner of the page. It follows the standard format of an introduction that includes a thesis statement. Plus, you only require enough body paragraphs and a conclusion to have a complete presentation.

Listing in an essay with this essay format depends on your type of list. You can opt for an in-sentence list in one of the paragraphs in the essay’s body. On the other hand, if you want to know how to list your sources, use a reference list or bibliography. Ensure they are left-aligned and double-spaced with 1-inch margins.

Below are additional guidelines to follow with this essay format, as outlined in the MLA Style Centre.

  • Use white 8 ½ x 11″ paper
  • Make 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, and sides
  • Indent the first word in every paragraph by 1.5 inches
  • Indent set-off quotations one inch from the left margin
  • Use a legible font like Arial or Times New Roman. Make sure that italics look different from the regular typeface
  • Use 11 – 12 point size
  • Double-space the entire research paper, even the works cited page
  • Leave one space after periods and other punctuation marks. But only if your supervisor asks you to leave two spaces

2.     APA essay format

The American Psychological Association created the APA style format. It’s popular with researchers in behavioral sciences (psychology and neuroscience) and social sciences.

Since it’s more research-focused, this format is more specific than MLA. For instance, you must begin with the title page, featuring your paper’s title in capital letters. Please note, the title shouldn’t go beyond 12 words. Ensure you also include your name and institution.

After the title page comes the abstract, a single page that sums up your research in 150 to 250 words. The key highlights for your abstract are:

  • The subject topic
  • Research questions
  • Method
  • Results
  • Analysis
  • Conclusion

Once done with the abstract, your research starts with the first chapter. The ideal APA style essay is short, direct, and concise. The final section cites your sources and references. Unlike the MLA style format, you’ll reference every source in contrarian.

Listing in an essay with APA style works well with lettered, numbered or bullet lists. You punctuate each item on the list with a comma, semicolon, or period. All this depends on the grammatical structure of the list. Note that, numbers are followed by periods and are not in parentheses. In running text, a series of items are designated by letters in parentheses: (a) first item, (b) second item, and (c) third item. To learn more on how to list things in an essay with the APA essay format, view this.

Further guidelines for the use of this assay format are as follows.

  • Page margins are set to 1-inch
  • Incorporate double spacing in all your content
  • Indent by 0.5 the first line of each paragraph
  • Use widely available fonts like Arial and Times New Roman in 11 and 12 size points
  • Ensure your paper has pagination

Chicago essay format

The University of Chicago Press developed the Chicago style format or Turabian style. It’s more popular with book authors and historians because it’s pretty comprehensive. The Turabian style is more or less like the Chicago style. But simpler and targets students and researchers.

It starts with a title page that comes with specific format rules. Depending on your type of content, you may or may not include the abstract. The same goes for the body of paragraphs. Your content will dictate whether to go with the APA style or MLA Style.

This essay format is popular for citing sources in history and occasionally in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. If you want to know how to introduce a list in an essay, these are the rules to follow.

  • Alphabetize the list by author’s surname
  • Ensure all citations fall into one list
  • Create a new page with a distinct title for the reference list
  • To reference in-text, use the first author’s surname only and ‘et al’. This is only if the authors are four or more
  • In the literature list, include all authors
  • Apply italics to journal titles and book titles
  • For secondary references, include both sources in the reference list.

More general guidelines on how to incorporate Chicago style in your presentation are:

  • Use a standard font like 12 pt. Times New Roman or Arial
  • Double-space the text
  • Use 1-inch margins or larger
  • Indent new paragraphs by ½ inch
  • Place page numbers in the top right or bottom center

How to list things in an essay

With all this information to sift through, perhaps you’re wondering how it all comes together. That is, the listing in an essay and the essay formatting. As a practical example, this section of the article is intended to give clarity on this.

A list essay discusses a topic containing a list. So if a topic can feature as a list, write it as such. But before you do, prepare a well-researched topic. Try to get your content from a broad range of sources. Then, create an outline to 1) Guide your writing, 2) Ensure you don’t leave out anything.

The structure of a list essay

1.     Title

Your reader needs to know what to expect by reading your title. From the start, let the reader understand that your content contains points to enumerate. Here are examples of suitable titles to convey this message.

  • 5 reasons you need a doctor
  • America’s most learned CEOs
  • 6 COVID-19 vaccines revealed

2.     The body of the list essay

In this section, you’ll explain the essay’s key messages in concise, brief detail. You’ll do the same within the introduction, main body, and conclusion.

  • Introduction- Use storytelling techniques or thought-provoking statements to pique interest. This section is critical to your essay because it gives an overview of the topic. Towards the end, don’t forget to share the thesis statement that refers to the title.
  • Main body- Now that you’ve reeled in your reader, what do you have to tell them? Here’s where you relay the gist of your content, using evidence for credibility. If your topic is 5 reasons you need a doctor, you’ll need to make several comparisons.

Between an active lifestyle, natural remedies, healthy eating, and religion. To do this, you’ll need to know how to list. Choose a list that narrows down your topic into concise message points that the reader can pick up at a glance.

Your content and essay format will determine the type of list to select. Ensure that you make a careful selection for meaningful flow.

  • Conclusion

You’ll summarize for emphasis your thesis statement in this section. Be sure to use slightly different wording from the one in the introduction. This is also your last stab at convincing the reader that you’ve delivered your promise. Never try to introduce new ideas in this section. Hence the reason you must prepare in advance with thorough precision before you start writing.

An effective list essay must have a suitable topic of discussion. Use a structure and format that gives a distinctive flow to your writing. By incorporating these guidelines, you’ll know how to write a list in an essay for any type of topic.

Related searches

1.     How to list things in an essay example

There are several types of lists you can use to list items in your essay. A good example is the labeled list, also known as a vertical list with run-in headings. Use letters, numbers or bullets to break up the content in point form. Then, ensure the label you want to highlight stands out; you can underline, bold, or italicize it and close with a colon.

2.     Examples of lists in writing

There are many types of lists used in writing. But the most common ones are the letter, bullet, and numbered lists. Depending on your content and essay format, you can also rely on: the standard, nested, labeled, and reference lists, respectively.


Anytime you or someone else wants to know how to list things in an essay, you’ll know what to do. Having read this guide, you can look at a list, see how it’s structured, and tell whether it has the proper formatting for lists. Do the entries have a consistent format? Are the numbers, letters, or bullets appropriately used in the correct order?

The knowledge you acquire in this guide is going to be critical to your schoolwork and career. With constant practice, you’ll know how to identify the lists and essay formats to use in your work. Moreover, you’ll master the art of writing stunning, engaging prose.

If on the other hand, you’ve not mastered the various lists and essay formats, there’s a solution for you. There are experienced professional writers and editors who can offer guidance to ensure you become an expert. Order now and get a professional to write your paper


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