If I am writing a study paper and I have given some descriptors as to which systems will be measured (things such as "openness" and "availability" in my case) is it acceptable for me to provide a list of this after with a short sentence expanding on what metrics that word in intended to include?


  • Openness - Measured by the proportion of the human population has access and the ease of entry for those who meet the requirements
  • etc...
  • 1
    I think you have to look at published literature in your field. In my field (economics) that would be very unusual, enough so that I would absolutely avoid it.
    – Jeff
    Oct 28, 2016 at 19:54
  • 2
    I have occasionally had lists in my abstracts. My group keeps them as part of the text i.e., "We show that 1) blah blah blah, 2) other stuff, and 3) this one thing."
    – Ric
    Oct 28, 2016 at 19:59

3 Answers 3


One important thing to keep in mind is that the abstract is typically copied to various article databases, which have varying support for markup. As such, much of the formatting will not necessarily be carried over. That nicely formatted bulleted list which appears in the pages of the journal can turn into a confusing mess in online article databases. (e.g. It might lose the bullets and be smashed into a single paragraph.)

For this reason, it's generally recommended to avoid any special formatting in article abstracts - even things like italics should be kept de minimis.

If at all possible, skip the bulleted list, and keep the list in plain text format. If you do want to keep the bulleted list, be sure to format the list entries such that things stay readable even if the bullets are removed and everything is collapsed into a single paragraph.


Abstracts are almost always formatted as a single paragraphs of plain text. This is for stylistic reasons and because indexing databases often have limited formatting support. By stylistic reasons I am referring to the idea that journals aims for a consistent look for how papers are formatted. This consistency is presumably partly driven by tradition and convention. But consistency also helps readers quickly identify sections of a manuscript.

If you want a list in an abstract, use a standard inline list format such as:

(a), (b), (c)

Results showed (a) blah blah blah, (b) blah blah blah, and (c) blah blah blah

or (1), (2), (3)

Results showed (1) blah blah blah, (2) blah blah blah, and (3) blah blah blah

  • @FedericoPoloni okay. I tweaked to make it more of a stand-alone answer. Oct 31, 2016 at 23:33
  • Still not clear to me what you mean by "for stylistic reasons". Do you think that 'inline bullets' are stylistically better than normal bullet points with proper spacing around them? Or is it a "because we've always done like that" reason? Nov 1, 2016 at 8:31
  • @FedericoPoloni updated a little Nov 2, 2016 at 0:24

There is a stylistic tool that allows for listing in text and looks perfectly natural, the semicolon.

The semi-colon allows you to list: your results, which might also require some additional explanation to be put after a comma; other people results'; some previous results and pretty much anything else.

This is one of the function of the semicolon, so it should not cause style issues and it should not cause any markup issue either!

  • Lists formatted with a semicolon (or with "inline numbers" as suggested in @JeromyAnglim's answer) are less readable though, especially if the additional explanations are long. If properly-formatted bullet lists were supported everywhere, they would be a superior solution in my view. Oct 31, 2016 at 10:59
  • I agree, this is one possible solution when markup and/or appropriateness are a concern under the condition that the items are not too long.
    – Three Diag
    Oct 31, 2016 at 11:05

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