Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Difference between Parentheses and Brackets

As far as specialized punctuation goes, brackets rank as one of the most useful types, if only under their very specific uses. Parentheses mark off material that supplements a sentence, explanations and asides that add information or feeling but are not grammatically necessary. You can use them either within a sentence or to set off additional exposition within a paragraph.

Parenthetical additions, however, should be carefully monitored. They tend to distract your readers from the content of your text, as writers often add their own running commentary to the flow of the story. Adding things like a location, a telephone number, or an explanation of a detail that clarifies a connection helps your readers to make sense of a piece. Placing your opinion, however, within parentheses (such as noting that the actress who won an award was wearing a particularly unattractive dress), simply provides a side track for their thoughts that takes them away from the point of your writing.

In part, brackets perform a similar function but only within direct quotes. You use brackets for such clarifications as naming the person or thing to which a pronoun refers, changing a capital letter to a lower-case one or vice versa (to preserve correct punctuation and sentence structure), or to note an error in the original language with the “sic” notation. Brackets have only one other generally-accepted use: they prevent you from having to use parentheses within a set of parentheses. As you may imagine, you should reserve that use for the most pressing of matters, such as adding a citation to an explanation.