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How to use brackets in business writing, journalism and copywriting

Parentheses, square brackets, angle brackets and braces

By Mary Morel | March 2017

There are four types of brackets:

  • Parentheses (often called round brackets or brackets)
  • Square brackets [  ] (sometimes called box brackets)
  • Angle brackets <  >
  • Braces {  } (often called curly brackets)

Parentheses are common in business writing, journalism and copywriting and square brackets are used occasionally. Angle bracket and braces are seldom used.

Parentheses (round brackets or brackets)

We use parentheses to add extra information to a sentence. You can use dashes or commas instead of brackets.

We plan to hold a writing seminar (originally scheduled for last year) in July.
We plan to hold a writing seminar – originally scheduled for last year – in July.
We plan to hold a writing seminar, which was originally scheduled for last year, in July.

Sometimes extra information in the middle of a sentence is intrusive and you may decide to rewrite your sentence.

We plan to hold a writing seminar in July. This seminar was originally scheduled for last year.
We plan to hold a writing seminar in July (originally scheduled for last year).

Punctuation with parentheses

If the words inside the parenthesis aren’t a complete sentence, the end punctuation goes after the brackets.

We’re coming on Friday (31 May).

If the words inside the parenthesis are a complete sentence, the end punctuation is inside.

We decided to hold the meeting on Monday. (The secretary couldn’t come any other day.)

Here’s another example:

I am writing this in the middle of the night (I can’t sleep!).
I am writing this in the middle of the night. (I can’t sleep!)

In the first example, the information is part of the sentence, so the punctuation is at the end. In the second statement, the information is a separate sentence with its own end punctuation.

Square brackets (box brackets)

We use square brackets to indicate that we have added words or comments that weren’t in the original material.

‘I appreciate it [the nomination], but cannot accept.’

Sic (the Latin word for ‘so’ or ‘thus’) is used in square brackets to indicate that something, often an error, has been copied exactly from the original. Sic is often, but not always, in italics.

I’m gunna [sic] catch them.

Angle brackets and braces (curly brackets)

I have never seen angle brackets < > or curly brackets {  } in business writing, but they are commonly used in mathematics and physics.

Read about angle brackets and braces.

 

 

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