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December 2012 Volume 8 Issue 12

The Write Stuff

December 2012  Volume 8 Issue 12

How to (Properly) Use Parentheses

 

To end the year, I’m focusing on punctuation that’s often used but not very well understood: parentheses. If you look up its definition, you’ll find words like “digression,” “afterthought” and “aside,” and indeed, those are typically the reasons why you’d choose to put verbiage within parentheses.

 

The headline above is a good example. “(Properly)” adds valuable content, but it doesn’t detract from your ability to easily read the copy.

 

My point? You need to think very carefully about flow when using parentheses. You might think you’re adding critical information, but what you may also be doing is “stopping” your reader, especially if you use parentheses in the middle of a sentence.

 

Here’s an example:

 

You’ll visit palace ruins and the small museum (entrance fee is $5 paid locally) contained within the old walls.

 

Did you find yourself distracted after reading the copy within the parentheses? In this case, it’s an easy fix:

 

You’ll visit palace ruins and the small museum contained within the old walls. (Entrance fee is $5 paid locally.)

 

I did several things: I moved the copy within the parentheses so it didn’t interfere with the flow of the sentence and maintained its status as an “aside,” but properly punctuated it as a sentence in its own right.

 

You should limit your use of parentheses within sentences to short phrases, like this:

 

The capital was moved from Moulmein, and Rangoon (then known as Yangon) became the seat of power for British Burma.

 

It will be helpful for you to change some money into local currency (kyats) before you board the ship.

 

In case you’re wondering about the source of my examples, I’ve been editing copy for a London-based travel company–Americanizing it. It’s been fascinating to see how different British English is from our version, but parentheses use is an issue “across the pond,” too.

 

 

Do you know businesses that could benefit from my writing or editing expertise? I’ll treat your referrals like gold and you’ll be viewed as a superstar for making the introduction.

adriennemoch.com adrienne@adriennemoch.com 619-291-4645

 

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