Periods–More Than a Dot

One would think periods are simple. Their function is to end a sentence. However, there are other uses for the period that we need to be aware of in order to use it correctly.

  • Use a period after a number in an outline or a list unless the number is in parentheses, i.e., (1). In an outline, you should tab after the period to give a visual break. Using Word’s auto numbering feature makes this step easier as it will automatically tab after the period.
  • When you have separate lines in a list that are independent clauses, dependent clauses, or long phrases, you should use periods. you should also use periods after short phrases that complete the statement that introduces the list:
    • Please provide your drafts by Friday for the:
      • Motion to Dismiss.
      • Motion to Exceed Page Limits.
      • Proposed Order.
  • Where items are listed in a sentence, use commas or semicolons to separate them:
    • Please provide your drafts by Friday for the (1) Motion to Dismiss, (2) Motion to Exceed Page Limits, and (3) Proposed Order.
  • You don’t need periods for short phrases if the introductory statement is already grammatically correct or if the list is more of an inventory or shopping list:
    • The training topics for the new secretary should include the following:
      • E-filing
      • Proofreading
      • Ethics
    • When you next go to Costco, please get:
      • Gum
      • Keurig coffee
      • Paper napkins
  • Note that in these lists, a colon is used to introduce the list, the first word of each item on the list is capitalized, and you can use numbers to begin the listed items (see my post about starting sentences with numbers here).
  • In headings, use a period after a run-in heading where the paragraph continues immediately following the heading. Do not use a period if the heading is freestanding. You can use appropriate punctuation such as an exclamation point or question mark if necessary in a freestanding heading.
    • Proper jurisdiction. It is agreed that Arizona is the proper jurisdiction for this matter.
    • Proper Jurisdiction

It is agreed that Arizona is the proper jurisdiction for this matter.

  • Don’t use a period after letters used to replace the name of a person or thing unless it ends a sentence.
    • Mr. X is the mystery brand spokesperson for the car I like.
  • However, do use a period if the single letter is used as the initial for a last name.
    • Mr. B. (for Mr. Bailey) was my favorite teacher.
  • Don’t use a period after a contraction like won’t or cont’d unless it ends a sentence.
  • Don’t use a period after ordinal numbers (2d, 3d).
  • Don’t use a period after roman numerals except in an outline (Volume III, page 29).

So periods aren’t quite as easy as they seem. Send your grammar and proofreading issues to [email protected] so we can answer them in a future blog post.


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