When and how to use brackets in business writing

23 May 2021

Parentheses (also known as round brackets) are a useful device to keep in your writing toolbox. Round brackets can help break up the content and make reading easier by separating information within the text. The type of text you would include in brackets could be a clarification, an aside, or a definition or example. You can use round brackets to enclose a single word, a phrase, or even an entire sentence.

Adding clarity to your writing

Brackets can add clarity to your writing by enclosing parts of a sentence that aren’t essential to the meaning. Separating the information using round brackets, rather than dashes or pairs of commas, indicates that the information is less important than other parts of the sentence.

Introducing an acronym or short form

Introducing a shortened form after it has been spelt out in full is one of the most common uses of round brackets in business writing. You can then use the shortened form through the rest of the page or publication.

Enclosing cross-references

Round brackets are also used to enclose cross-references to other parts of the content, such as figures or graphs.

Correct

Incorrect

In 2019, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

In 2019, the Council of Australian Governments [COAG] agreed to establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) will be phased out from loose packaging fill and moulded packaging in consumer packaging (July 2022), and EPS consumer food and beverage containers (December 2022).

Expanded polystyrene, EPS, will be phased out from loose packaging fill and moulded packaging in consumer packaging - July 2022 - and EPS consumer food and beverage containers (December 2022).

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has set new industry targets for average recycled content in plastic packaging.

APCO (Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation)  has set new industry targets for average recycled content in plastic packaging.

Average annual net returns of per cent (after investment and administration expenses, and taxes) fell below the system-level benchmark (Figure 2).  

Average annual net returns of per cent after investment and administration expenses, and taxes fell below the system-level benchmark: Figure 2.

The Australian Government regulates the superannuation system so that people can trust it with a significant portion of their savings (and for many, their primary source of savings).

The Australian Government regulates the superannuation system so that people can trust it with a significant portion of their savings, their primary source of savings.

You can find more writing tips on the Concise Writing Consultancy website (www.concisewriting.com.au)

You can find more writing tips on the Concise Writing Consultancy website; www.concisewriting.com.au

If you enclose some information in brackets, the sentence must be grammatically correct when the bracketed information is removed. The easiest way to test this is to read the sentence without the bracketed information. Does the sentence that remains make sense? If the answer is ‘yes’ it is likely you have used brackets correctly.

Used well, round brackets  can improve meaning and make content easy for readers to skim read. But sentences that contain brackets can become long, complex and difficult to understand. If the sentence exceeds 30 words, or you’re not confident of the grammatical construction, we recommend you try rewriting the sentence to avoid the bracketed information.

Need help producing professional and grammatically correct written communications? Contact Concise Writing Consultancy today on 02 9238 6638 or email patricia.hoyle@concisewriting.com.au

Sources:

Australian Government Style Manual https://www.stylemanual.gov.au/style-rules-and-conventions/punctuation-marks/brackets-and-parentheses

Australian Government, Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment, National Plastics Plan 2021 https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/a327406c-79f5-47f1-b71b-7388407c35a0/files/national-plastics-plan-2021.pdf

Australian Government Productivity Commission Superannuation: Assessing Efficiency and Competitiveness No. 91, 21 December 2018 Productivity Commission Inquiry Report Overview https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/superannuation/assessment/report/superannuation-assessment-overview.pdf

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