The Oxbridge Editing Blog 5th April 2024

How to Use Parentheses

5th April 2024
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Parentheses, often overlooked yet incredibly versatile, play a crucial role in enhancing the clarity and readability of written text. Understanding how to use parentheses correctly can elevate your writing and convey additional information effectively. In this blog post, we’ll explore the function of parentheses, when and how to use them, common pitfalls to avoid, and alternatives to consider. 

What Are Parentheses? Their Function

Parentheses, also known as round brackets, are punctuation marks used to set off extra information or clarify a point within a sentence. They enclose non-essential elements such as explanations, clarifications, or asides that provide additional context but can be omitted without altering the main message of the sentence. Parentheses help to maintain the flow of the sentence while offering supplementary information to the reader.

Parentheses vs Brackets

While parentheses and brackets serve similar functions, they are used in slightly different contexts. Parentheses, ( ), are typically used to enclose non-essential information within a sentence, whereas brackets, [ ], are often used to insert editorial comments, corrections, or clarifications within quoted text. Additionally, parentheses have a softer, more informal tone, while brackets are often used in more formal or technical writing.

When to Use Parentheses

Use parentheses when you want to provide additional information that is not essential to the main message of the sentence but adds context or clarification for the reader. For example, you can use parentheses to include dates, references, acronyms, or brief explanations within a sentence without disrupting its overall structure. Here are some common scenarios where using parentheses is appropriate:

Providing Additional Information: Use parentheses to include supplementary details that are not essential to the main message of the sentence. For example:

  • The conference (scheduled for next week) has been postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • She completed her Master’s in Linguistics (with distinction) from a renowned university.

Adding Clarifications: Parentheses can clarify ambiguous terms or abbreviations within a sentence. For example:

  • The experiment focused on the effects of caffeine (C8H10N4O2) on cognitive function.
  • The new software update (version 2.0) includes several bug fixes and performance enhancements.

Inserting Dates or References: Parentheses are useful for including dates, citations, or references within a sentence. For example:

  • The study was conducted in 2020 (Smith et al., 2021), and its findings were published last month.
  • The event will take place on Saturday (March 12th) at 3 p.m. in the auditorium.

When Not to Use Parentheses

Avoid using parentheses excessively or in situations where other punctuation marks would be more appropriate. Overuse of parentheses can disrupt the flow of your writing and make it appear cluttered or disjointed. Here are some other common scenarios:

Essential Information: Do not use parentheses to enclose essential information that is integral to the main message of the sentence. Instead, use commas, dashes, or other punctuation marks to convey emphasis or clarification. For example:

  • Incorrect: The results of the experiment were inconclusive (which surprised the researchers).
  • Correct: The results of the experiment were inconclusive, which surprised the researchers.

In Formal Writing: In formal or academic writing, parentheses should be used judiciously and only when necessary. Over-reliance on parentheses can detract from the overall professionalism and coherence of your writing. Consider using alternative punctuation marks or restructuring sentences to convey information more effectively. For example: 

  • Incorrect: The CEO announced a new initiative (aimed at improving employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention), which received positive feedback from staff.
  • Correct: The CEO announced a new initiative aimed at improving employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention, which received positive feedback from staff.

How to Use Parentheses: Best Practices

Using parentheses effectively involves more than just inserting them into your writing; it requires careful consideration of context, clarity, and grammatical integration. 

Placement: Place parentheses immediately after the word or phrase they are associated with, with no space in between. Ensure that the content enclosed within the parentheses is grammatically integrated into the surrounding sentence and can be omitted without affecting its meaning.

  • Example: The research study (conducted over a period of two years) yielded promising results.

Content: Decide whether to include full sentences or fragments within parentheses, depending on the context and purpose of the parenthetical information. Use parentheses to provide additional details, clarifications, or asides that enhance the reader’s understanding of the main message.

  • Example: The new software update (scheduled for release next month) includes several new features and enhancements.

Clarity: Keep your use of parentheses clear and concise. Avoid overloading parentheses with too much information or using them excessively within a single sentence. Use parentheses sparingly to maintain readability and coherence in your writing.

  • Example: The conference (which focuses on sustainable development and environmental conservation) will take place in Edinburgh next week.

Integration: Ensure that the content within parentheses seamlessly integrates with the surrounding sentence structure. The text inside parentheses should flow naturally within the sentence and not disrupt its overall coherence or rhythm.

  • Example: The company’s financial performance (as reported in the latest quarterly earnings statement) exceeded analysts’ expectations.

Consistency: Be consistent in your use of parentheses throughout your writing. If you choose to use parentheses to enclose certain types of information, maintain this style consistently to avoid confusion or inconsistency for the reader.

  • Example: The research findings (published in a peer-reviewed journal) have significant implications for future studies in the field.

Consideration: Consider whether parentheses are the most appropriate punctuation mark for conveying the information you want to include. In some cases, commas, dashes, or square brackets may be more suitable depending on the context and emphasis required.

  • Example: The study, conducted by a team of researchers from various institutions, focused on identifying key factors contributing to climate change.

Alternative to Parentheses

As mentioned above, an overuse of parentheses is not recommended. In some cases, parentheses may not be the most suitable punctuation mark for enclosing additional information. Consider using commas, dashes, or square brackets instead, depending on the specific context and emphasis required. 

Commas are used for brief interruptions or non-essential information within a sentence, while dashes add emphasis or indicate a sudden change in thought. Square brackets are often used to insert editorial comments or clarify quoted text. Here are some examples for each:


The research study, conducted by leading experts in the field, yielded groundbreaking results.


The conference – scheduled for next month – will feature keynote speakers from around the world.

Square Brackets:

The author stated, “The results [of the study] were unexpected and require further investigation.”


Mastering the use of parentheses is essential for effective communication. By understanding their function, knowing when and how to use them correctly, and avoiding common pitfalls, you can enhance the clarity and readability of your writing. 

Are you unsure if you’re using parentheses correctly in your writing? Our team of experienced editors and proofreaders can help ensure that your parentheses are used accurately and appropriately. From checking punctuation placement to ensuring grammatical integration, we’ll review your documents meticulously to ensure clarity and consistency. Contact us today for professional editing and proofreading services tailored to your specific needs.