This post will be the last one for a few weeks. Explorations of Style will return in the first week or two of August. If you have any ideas for topics that you would like to see addressed in future posts, please feel free to leave your questions in the comments below. Have a great summer!
If you can stand it, I am going to talk about using lists one more time. (Then I’m going to stop before I have to relaunch this blog as Explorations of Lists.) As I said in the first post on lists, they are an inevitable by-product of the complexity of academic material. Consider this example, which we have seen before, of a simple list:
Today’s educational leaders must face increasing demands for public accountability, work long hours to improve student achievement, provide instructional leadership, demonstrate moral leadership, exercise fiscal prudence, support their staff, and navigate a litigious environment while facing low teacher morale.
After reading that passage, my expectation would be that these seven points will not be important in what follows. That is, the author wanted the audience to know a bunch of things about educational leaders but isn’t planning to devote any more time to those individual points. You can easily imagine that the next sentence would build on the overall point of the previous one without dealing in the specifics (for example, ‘Given the complexity of this role, educational leaders often …’).
Lists, however, aren’t just ways of describing detailed material. They can also be ways of structuring our writing. That is, lists can do more than just list stuff; lists can also establish crucial information that will be used to structure later parts of the text. The key to these ‘structural lists’ is that the reader is getting useful guidance on how to read the text. Contrast these four (deliberately simplified) lists: