Brackets in essays

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Brackets come in three varieties: square brackets [these] round brackets (these) and angled brackets <these>

1. The technical name is for what occurs inside the brackets is a ‘parenthesis’.

2. The difference between the two is that a parenthesis represents an aside, an associated remark, or an additional piece of information which is closely related to the main subject of the sentence in which it is placed.

Goodwin argues that Thompson’s policies (of which he clearly disapproves) would only increase the national debt.

3. Square brackets on the other hand are used to indicate that something has been added to the original text for editorial purposes of clarification or comment.

The reporter added that this woman [Mrs Wood] had suffered severe injuries.

A mother wrote to the headmaster that her son was ‘fritened [sic] to go to school’

4. A common use for the parenthesis in academic writing is to indicate a bibliographic reference within the text of an essay – particularly when using the Harvard (or the short title) system of referencing.

Sartre’s account of ‘bad faith’ (Sartre 1938) differs slightly from that offered by Simone de Beauvoir (de Beauvoir 1949).

5. Notice that when a parenthesis occurs at the end of a sentence, the full stop falls outside the bracket (as this one does).

6. Any statement within brackets should be grammatically independent of the sentence in which it occurs. That is, the sentence should be complete, even if the contents of the brackets were to be removed.

The republican senator (who was visiting London for a minor operation) also attended the degree ceremony.

7. If a quotation contains a mistake in the original you might wish to indicate that the error is not your own. This too is indicated by the use of square brackets.

The senior government minister who was recently acquitted of kerb-crawling claimed that at long last his ‘trails [sic] and tribulations’ were at an end.

8. The expressions within brackets should be kept as brief as possible, so as not to interrupt the flow of the sentence in which they are placed.

9. The use of brackets should be kept to a minimum. If used too frequently, they create a choppy, unsettling effect.

10. Angled brackets are most commonly used in scientific writing. They are also used as part of the HTML coding to create web pages.

© Roy Johnson 2003


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