Parentheses and Brackets - Graduate Writing Center

Nested Applications
Parentheses and Brackets

Parentheses and Brackets

Parentheses (the round ones) and brackets [the square ones] might look like headphones for words, but actually, both are used to insert text into other text. That said, although they occasionally work together, their functions are mostly quite different. Allow us to explain:
 

Parentheses

You'll probably be using parentheses primarily to set off acronyms or, depending on your citation style, in-text citations.

  1. To introduce an acronym, first spell it out in your text, placing the acronym in parentheses; subsequent uses of the acronym take no parentheses:
     

    An increasingly important technology in expeditionary delicatessen operations is the sandwich-defined network (SDN). Though initially described as "baloney" by its wryer critics, over the past decade, refinements to SDN have rolled out . . . 

  2. Certain citation styles, such as APA, Chicago Author-Date, and INFORMS, place citations in parentheses; see the NPS Citation Guide for more information:
     

    Though initially described as "baloney" by its wryer critics, over the past decade, refinements to SDN have rolled out, allowing it to catch up with the needs of ham operators, who now relish the technology (Coburg 1998, p. 11). 

  3. Parentheses can also set off additional information inside a sentence. (Or even whole sentences.) However, doing so will signal to readers that this information is significantly less important than the surrounding text; be sure not to place critical material in parentheses! 

This research investigates whether three taxa of dough-enfolded comestibles (hot dogs, gyros, and hand pies) qualify as sandwiches. ←Case selection is likely too important for parentheses!

In situations like this one, dashes—or simply eliminating the appositive—are stronger (i.e., more emphatic) alternatives:

  • This research investigates whether three taxa of dough-enfolded comestibles—hot dogs, gyros, and hand pies—qualify as sandwiches.
  • This research investigates whether hot dogs, gyros, and hand pies qualify as sandwiches.
     

Brackets

Square brackets also have a role to play in in-text citation styles, as well as in quotations and translated sources:

  1. When the author of a source is an organization widely known by an acronym, the first in-text citation can define that acronym:

    (Joint Chiefs of Staff [JCS] 2017)

    As in the text, subsequent citations can use the acronym only:
     

    (JCS 2017)

  2. Use square brackets when modifying a quotation:

    As Drezner observes, “the challenges [flesh-eating zombies] pose to states are very, very grave.” (source)

  3. Square brackets enclose translated titles in the list of references; see the Essential Rules page of your citation style for more information. 
     

Still have questions about parentheses and brackets? Make a coaching appointment or see the links below.
  

Parentheses and Brackets Links

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All-Topics Index


The following index makes searching for a specific topic easier and links to the appropriate place in the sequenced material. We think we have most of them, but please email us at writingcenter@nps.edu if we are missing something!

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A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

A

abbreviations

abstracts

academic writing

acronyms

active voice

advisor, selecting and working with

apostrophes

appointment with GWC coaches, how to schedule

argument

article usage

assignments, understanding them

audience

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B

body paragraphs

brackets, square

brainstorming

building better sentences tips

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C

capitalization

citations

citation software

citation styles

clauses

clarity

clustering

coaching, about

coaching, how to schedule

colons

comma splices

commas, FANBOYS

commas, introductory

commas, list

commas, nonessential elements

commas, Oxford

commonly confused words 

compare-and-contrast papers 

concision

conclusions

conjunctive adverbs

coordinating conjunctions

copyright and fair use

critical thinking  

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D

dangling modifiers

dashes

dependent clauses

dependent marker words

display equations

double submission of coursework

drafting

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E

editing your own work

editing: outside editors

exclamation points

executive summary

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F

FANBOYS

FAQs

first person, use of in academic writing

footnotes

fragments

free-writing

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G

gerunds

grammar

group writing

GWC appointment, how to schedule

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H

homophones

hyphens

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I

ibid.

incomplete sentences

independent clauses

introductions

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J

Joining the Academic Conversation

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L

LaTeX

library liaisons

lists, syntax of

literature reviews 

logic and analysis 

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M

making a GWC appointment

mathematics

memos

methodologies

misplaced modifiers

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N

nominalizations

note-taking

noun clusters

numbers

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O

organization

outlining

Oxford comma

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P

paragraph development 

parallelism

paraphrasing

parentheses

parts of speech

passive voice

periods

persuasion

phrases vs. clauses

plagiarism, how to avoid through citations

plain language

polishing

prepositional phrases 

prepositions

pronouns

publishing

punctuation

purpose of research

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Q

questions

quotation marks 

quoting

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R

reading with intent

redundancies                                                                

reference software

reflection papers 

research

research questions

reusing papers

reverse outlining

revision

roadmaps                                            

run-on sentences 

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S

scheduling a GWC appointment

self-citing

semicolons

sentence fragments

serial comma

signal phrases

significance

so what?

sources, engaging with / critiquing

sources, evaluating the reliability of

sources, citing

spelling

standard essay structure

STEM / technical writing 

style

subject–verb agreement

subjects, grammatical

subordinating conjunctions

summarizing

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T

technical writing

that vs. which

thesis writing

thesis advisor, selecting and working with

thesis process overview

thesis process tips

thesis proposals – common elements                                                     

thesis statements

this, that, these, those

tone, professional

topic sentences 

transitions

types of papers

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U

United States or U.S.?

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V

verbs and verb tense

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W

which vs. that

Why write?

writer’s block 

writing process

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Z

Zotero

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