Incorrect use of colons

This is not a medical error. It is a grammatical one.

Consider the following example (which is unfortunately common):

This SOA addresses the following topics:

  • super

This should simply read:

This SOA addresses super.

The basic rule is that colons are used to introduce lists of more than two items. (Colons are used for other purposes as well). We would actually suggest that advisers only use a colon for a list of three or more items. For two items, advisers should write something like

My SOA addresses life insurance and super.

It is only when the list gets longer than this that colons and bullet points are of any real benefit. For example:

This SOA addresses the following topics:

  • Superannuation;
  • Life Insurance; and
  • Debt Management.

Note that the semi-colon (;) is used after all but the last bullet points. The word ‘and’ is used after the semi-colon (;) immediately before the final bullet point. The final bullet point is followed by a full-stop, which actually ends the whole sentence.

This is the point of the colon and semi-colon. They break up one long sentence in a way that makes the sentence more easily understood. Where the sentence was not that long to start with (“This SOA addresses super”), colons and semi-colons simply are not necessary.

Many clients may not notice the misuse of colons and semi-colons. But some will. And those clients will be left wondering whether there is something that has been left out. After all, colons usually precede a list. Clients might be left wondering where the rest of the list went.

The Dover Group