Monday, August 17, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: It's Hip to be a Square Bracket

Although often upstaged by the more commonly used parenthesis, the square bracket is a handy writing tool. Perhaps you are quoting material that needs more information; there's a square bracket for that. "'They [the free-silver Democrats] asserted that the ratio could be maintained.'" Maybe you want to use the bracketed material to replace the author's original words; there's a bracket for that. When there is a pesky word within a quotation that you need to eliminate or change, the square bracket may just come to your rescue. When used correctly, the quotation "He gave an inspirational speech" becomes "[The President] gave an inspirational speech."

According to The Chicago Manual of Style, the square brackets "are used mainly to enclose material—usually added by someone other than the original author—that does not belong in the surrounding text. In quoted matter, reprints, anthologies, and other non-original material, square brackets enclose editorial interpolations, explanations, translations of foreign terms, or corrections."

Square brackets can also be useful when translating material. If a word causes ambiguity, a translator can use square brackets to avoid misrepresentation. For example, "the differences between society [Gesellschaft] and community [Gemeinde] will now be analyzed." However, Chicago warns to use the "device sparingly" in this manner.

When you're quoting, writing, or editing don't forget about the square bracket. Don't count it out just because it's a little "edgier" than it's parenthetical counterpart. It could just be your punctuation equivalent to Wonder Woman.

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