List Formatting (It’s for Political Candidates, too!)

I’m having a ball listening to Grammar Girl’s podcast. Much of what she covers is already a part of my internal writer/editor/proofreader, but she has a nice, conversational approach that’s enjoyable regardless. Sometimes the episode I happen to listen to is particularly timely, as happened today with Formatting Vertical Lists. Useful tips I gleaned include

  • Don’t use a colon to introduce a list, unless the introduction is a complete sentence. (I think I’ve been violating this one for a while. But see how I reformed my ways in this post!)
  • Capitalize and punctuate list items if they are complete sentences.
  • Use bullets for unordered items, numbers to indicate sequence (steps), and letters to indicate choices or labels you can refer back to later.
  • Use parallel construction.

So, what was timely about this episode? Yesterday I had the pleasure of reading through candidate statements on my sample ballot. One in particular stood out for its egregious abuse of punctuation, overuse of capitalization, and general incoherence. Here is a verbatim excerpt that highlights multiple violations of Grammar Girl’s list formatting recommendations:

Donald Williamson Has The Experience and ECONOMIC RECOVERY PLAN to:
Stop Foreclosures! Help Families Save Their Home! (Recast Loan).
Cut State of California’s Dependency on Foreign Oil.
Wording on Reducing Gas Prices.
Balances California’s Budget: Cuts Fat-Waste, Stops Excessive Spending, No New Taxes!
Establish Health Care – Pharmacy Plan For All Californians.
Economic Recovery Plan: Creates Business, Jobs, Reduces Unemployment.

Oh, where to start? In terms of formatting, Donald has forgotten to use any sort of bullet at all for his list. He included the leading colon (I’m willing to forgive this one). He bolded and underlined each initial word, which only makes the lack of parallelism more grating. He would also have us believe that all of California’s families live in a single home. The vacuous content is even more alarming. I’m still utterly puzzled by #3 (“Wording!”). I’m not sure what “Fat-Waste” actually is, but it sounds pretty gross. Thank goodness Donald’s there for us with his blizzard of buzzword “solutions”, up to and including “No New Taxes!”

I read on, eager to learn how he was going to “recast” loans, do something to gas prices, provide a “health care – pharmacy” plan for all Californians, create “business” and jobs—all without introducing new taxes! Sadly, no details were forthcoming. Nor is any additional content available on his website, which features two bonus non-parallel lists, more families living in that single home, use of “that” instead of “who”, “receive” misspelled, etc.

The saddest part? Donald Williamson cites himself as an “Educator.” America’s future is in his hands, even if he loses his bid to represent the 59th District in the State Assembly. Please, Donald, next time devote just a few dollars to a good proofreading of your campaign materials. If nothing else, it sets a good example.