APA Format for Numbered Bullets Within the Text

Numbered lists and bullets are often used to attract readers' attention to chronology of actions and/or series of thoughts. The "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th Edition" (APA) allows the use of both numbered lists and bulleted items in research papers. The APA recommends you make certain that all items should be "syntactically and conceptually parallel" in a series. Though the final formatting style, such as color and shapes of bullets, is determined by the publishers, you should follow the APA formatting style when you use either a numbered list or bullets in your paper.

Does Order Matter?

To determine whether you should use a numbered list or bullets, think about whether or not the order of the items matters. Use numbered lists when you're dealing with items in sequence or in relative importance, because numbers suggest hierarchy. If the order of the items is not essential, use bullets. APA formatting style allows both numbered and unnumbered lists within paragraphs and text. You may also indent these lists, but this is not mandatory.

Numbered List

Numbered lists should use an Arabic numeral followed by a period. Do not put parentheses after the numeral. Each numbered list item should express a complete thought. The first word is capitalized. Each item ends with a period, an exclamation mark or a question mark, depending on the situation. It never ends with a comma.


APA does not specify the shapes of the bullets. Journal publishers usually have set guidelines on their bullet notation. When you insert bullets in your paper, you can use any small icons that can be recognized as bullets. If your bulleted items are sentences, you should capitalize the first word of each bullet and end the bullet with the right punctuation. However, if your bulleted list forms one sentence, do not capitalize each bullet. In this case, put a comma or semicolon at the end of each bullet. Use "and" at the end of the second to the last bulleted item. Finish the last bulleted item with a period.

Alternative Seriation

APA also allows you to specify a series of short items by using lowercase letters in parentheses within a paragraph or sentence instead of numbering items or putting bullets as line items. Use this method if each item is relatively brief. Be sure the list has a consistent grammatical structure and that the series works as part of the sentence. Do not capitalize the first word following the letter in parentheses. Put a comma or semicolon at the end of each item, depending on the internal punctuation of the sentence.

About the Author

Alice Lou holds a B.S. in mathematics from Columbia College and an M.S. in operations research from Columbia University. She is also a chartered financial analyst level II candidate. Lou currently teaches undergraduate mathematics at a four-year college.

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