Saturday, January 29, 2011

[Brackets] and (Parentheses)


John asked about the difference between brackets and parentheses. In short, while both enclose interruptions or extra information, the parentheses signify that the author is adding information, while brackets indicate that the editor is adding information. In other words, when I break in on myself, I use parentheses; when I break in on someone else, I use brackets.

First, let’s look at some specifics on brackets.

  • When you are quoting someone and come across an error in spelling or in fact, but want to preserve the original for historical accuracy, placing the italicized word sic in brackets [sic] tells the reader, “Don’t blame me—I know it’s a mistake, but that’s what was in the original.”
  • When you are quoting someone and have to change things such as capitalization, pronoun form, or punctuation to fit your sentence, enclose the change in brackets to show that it’s your doing.
  • If you add some form of emphasis to someone else’s material, such as italics or underlining, you may signify that at the end of the sentence by enclosing it in brackets. [Italics added]

Now let’s look at parentheses.

  • When you add something to your own sentence, such as an explanation, an example, or a definition, use parentheses to enclose it.
  • Use parentheses to enclose numbers or letters that are used in a listing.
    “There are three branches in the federal government: (1) executive;
    (2) legislative; (3) judicial.”
  • Do not overuse parentheses. If you have a large number in a sentence, you are drifting away from the primary focus.


SIDEBAR: A writer has choices when it comes to interrupting his or her own material with a definition or a synonym. You may use parentheses, commas, or dashes.

  • Mitosis (cell division) typically involves four successive stages.
  • Mitosis, cell division, typically involves four successive stages.
  • Mitosis—cell division—typically involves four successive stages.


Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition


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