How to adjust list spacing

Lamport’s book lists various parameters for the layout of list (things like \topsep, \itemsep and \parsep), but fails to mention that they’re set automatically within the standard (LaTeX-defined) lists. This happens because each list executes a command \@listdepth (the depth appearing as a lower-case roman numeral); what’s more, the top-level \@listi is usually reset when the font size is changed. As a result, it’s rather tricky for the user to control list spacing. Of course, the real answer is to use a document class designed with more modest list spacing, but we all know such things are hard to come by. The memoir class doesn’t provide more compact lists, but offers the user control over the list spacing using \firmlist and \tightlist (and *-ed versions of them); see section 8.6 of the memoir manual.

There are packages that provide some control of list spacing, but they seldom address the separation from surrounding text (defined by \topsep). The expdlist package, among its many controls of the appearance of description lists, offers a compaction parameter (see the documentation); the mdwlist package offers a \makecompactlist command for users’ own list definitions, and uses it to define compact lists itemize*, enumerate* and description*. In fact, you can write lists such as these commands define pretty straightforwardly — for example:

The paralist package provides several approaches to list compaction: The package will manipulate its enumerate environment labels just like the enumerate package does.

Paralist also provides itemize equivalents (asparaitem, etc.), and description equivalents (asparadesc, etc.).

The multenum package offers a more regular form of paralist’s inparaenum; you define a notional grid on which list entries are to appear, and list items will always appear at positions on that grid. The effect is somewhat like that of the ‘tab’ keys on traditional typewriters; the package was designed for example sheets, or lists of answers in the appendices of a book.

The expdlist, mdwlist and paralist packages all offer other facilities for list configuration: you should probably not try the “do-it-yourself” approaches outlined below if you need one of the packages for some other list configuration purpose.

For ultimate flexibility (including manipulation of \topsep), the enumitem package permits adjustment of list parameters using a “key=‹value›” format. For example, one might write

\begin{enumerate}[topsep=0pt, partopsep=0pt]
\item ...
\item ...
to suppress all spacing above and below your list, or
\item ...
\item ...
to set spacing between items and between paragraphs within items. Enumitem also permits manipulation of the label format in a more “basic” (and therefore more flexible) manner than the enumerate package does.

The ultimate in compaction (of every sort) is offered by the savetrees package; compaction of lists is included. The package’s prime purpose is to save space at every touch and turn: don’t use it if you’re under any design constraint whatever!

Distributed as part of 2etools
memoir manual
Distributed as part of mdwtools

This answer last edited: 2012-10-30