In general, written essays follow a set structure. Something occasionally complicates the structure, however, and students must compensate. Your teacher may assign an essay that includes a list. These lists mess with the layout, design, and even grammar of your paper. That said, lists make it easier for your readers to understand different points and how everything fits together.

Lists help explain subtopics, recommendations, individual components in an item, or the steps to reach a conclusion. The critical element to making lists part of your paper is knowing how to list things in your essay. You have to use appropriate grammar and punctuation and still follow the essay’s grammatical style guidelines.

How to Write a Standard List in an Essay

Start the list with a new independent clause or sentence. How long is the list? Let readers know the list is going to be longer by starting it with a colon. You can use commas for listing objects into a shorter list. Don’t forget to use a semicolon to split items with more than three words or things with commas. This helps to keep the list organized and easy to read.

If you have an even shorter list, you could start the list in the middle of a sentence. Use a dash to transition into a list. Dashes are an informal punctuation mark used to indicate sudden shifts in the sentence. We’ll take a look at a quick example;

No matter the species, eyes all have similar features – pupils, retinas, and optic nerves. If you can’t decide between using dashes or colons, we recommend using a colon. Colons look better and more professional, but using a dash works fine if the list isn’t too long.

How to Write Numbered Lists in an Essay

Writing a numbered list is a little bit different than a standard list. These lists start with a new sentence to introduce the topic, followed by numbers and periods to indicate individual items (steps) in the list. Here is our example;

How to Make Tea:

  1. Add water to kettle and heat it
  2. Put the teabag in a cup
  3. Pour hot water into the cup

You can use bullet points instead of numbers if they don’t have to be numbered in a set way. The main point of numbered lists is that you include your introductory sentence/paragraph explaining the list. These numbered lists eat up more room in an essay, so they should justify using up space. Readers might assume you used a numbered list to make the paper look longer than it is if your list is long and doesn’t add any value.

How to Include Lists For MLA Essays

You may put a numbered list into your MLA essay. However, we recommend against doing that. There are several ways to write lists into MLA essays, so be sure to talk to your professor first. Please find out how they prefer students present lists.

In the Sentence:

You can include your list in an MLA essay by writing it into the sentence. Similar to before, introduce your list with a colon. Use semicolons and commas to separate items in the list. You can also number the objects with parentheses. Here’s an example of this in action:

British actors play many American characters: (1) Hugh Laurie played Doctor House; (2) Gary Oldman played Lee Harvey Oswald; (3) Daniel Day-Lewis played Daniel Plainview.

As a Block:

Writing a list as blockquote is a great way to add a longer list to an MLA essay. Here’s how you can use include a list in your essay with blockquotes:

Many literary classics were published posthumously:

  1. Billy Bud, Sailor, by Merman Melville
  2. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R Tolkien
  3. The Ivory Tower, by Henry James

Use a colon to start the list and indent items in the list. Items should be indented further than standard indentation. Be sure to add a period after each number and space between the number and item in the list. Don’t forget to include closing punctuation if an article is a complete sentence.


Anything is possible with academic writing, even breaking down complicated subjects into manageable lists. When your assignment requires you to use research publications or list things, it’s good to know how to do that. We hope the information in our article helps you write lists in your papers, even MLA-formatted papers.

Ensure that all letters and numerals are used efficiently across the list. Also, ensure there is a smooth transition between sentences and paragraphs and lists in each essay. Essay authors use lists to go into detail on complex information in a presentable and structured manner. Make fair use of lists in your pieces to clearly present information while keeping everything neat and tidy.

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