When to use brackets (or not)

The use of brackets can guide readers on the importance of information. Brackets, also known as parentheses, usually enclose less important material in a sentence such as acronyms, asides, comments, clarifications, dates, definitions, examples and extra information.

As readers are more likely to skip over text in brackets, I prefer to avoid brackets and use commas or long dashes, known as en rules, to separate information. This is consistent with trends to minimise punctuation and streamline the look of text.

Brackets can be round (like these) or square [like these]. The Australian Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers (Snooks & Co, 2002, p. 111) explains that square brackets are “primarily used in quoted material to signify editorial interpolations or insertions made by someone other than the author”.

In work using the author-date reference style, references in the text are put in brackets. But to emphasise a specific author, not just the content, put the author name in the text and just the year in brackets. Compare these examples:

  • Daniels (2016) suggests minimising the use of brackets.
  • Brackets enclose material that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence (Snooks & Co, 2002, p. 110).

For more on the relative importance of information in text, see my post on Footnotes – not a fan.

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