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( ) Brackets

The following describes two main uses of brackets, and some guidance on punctuation within brackets. Further advice is available in the Development Level.

To enclose words which are additional

Brackets are used in written work to enclose an aside or an afterthought, or to add information or ideas which are not essential.

You should be able to remove the brackets and their contents and be left with a sentence which makes sense.

Example

There are several ways of beginning to write an essay (all of them equally helpful) and it depends on writers which they prefer.

There are several ways of beginning to write an essay and it depends on writers which they prefer.

To show in your text where you are referring to other people's work

It is very important in academic work to refer correctly to other people's work in your text.

Go to References and Resources in the Main Menu for how to access 'Key Skills Online', which has a section on referencing.

Example

There are several different ways of beginning to write an essay (Drew and Bingham, 2001) and it depends on writers as to which they prefer.


Punctuation within brackets

You need to be clear whether punctuation marks belong to the text inside or outside the brackets.

For text inside brackets, use punctuation which belongs to it. If the words form a complete sentence they should end with a full-stop (or question mark if appropriate).

The sentence into which the brackets are inserted also has its punctuation. It must end with a full stop or question mark, outside the brackets, even if the brackets come at the end of that sentence.

Example

Some people prefer live theatre while others prefer films (do I hear you say "I like both"?).

Putting a punctuation mark just before or after a bracket shows to which part of the sentence the brackets belong.

Example

Some people prefer live theatre and some prefer films (they provide a very different experience), while others like both.
Here the brackets belong to the first part of the sentence.

* Some people prefer live theatre and some prefer films, (they provide a very different experience) while others like both.
Now the brackets belong to the second part of the sentence and it no longer makes sense.

Both of the following are incorrect. The comma belongs to the text outside the brackets, not in them.

* Some people prefer live theatre and some prefer films (, they provide a very different experience) while others like both.
* Some people prefer live theatre and some prefer films (they provide a very different experience,) while others like both.

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004