JS Tip 181: From the Writing Workshops: Using Brackets

Let’s explore this question: “I understand parentheses, but what do brackets—[ ]—do?”

Brackets identify comments or corrections in quoted material.

1.  Use brackets to clarify {C}{C}quoted material.

She said, “I want [the retaining wall] built by the end of August.”

The original quotation wasn’t as clear:

“I want it built by the end of August.”

You know she was talking about the retaining wall, so you include that information in brackets to make the quotation clearer.

2.  Use brackets and the italicized word sic (Latin for “thus”) to identify errors in quoted material.

The transcript said, “Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak [sic] designed the first Apple computer in a garage.”

You know the co-founder of Apple spells his name “Wozniak,” (with a z) but you’re wary of changing the transcript. By using “[sic],” you’re saying, “Hey, I’m not stupid. I know this is misspelled. This is the way I found it in the original.”

Brackets have other uses, but they’re so rare (bibliographies, phonetic notation, mathematical groups, etc.), you don’t have to worry.

Let us know if you have questions. We love this stuff. And we appreciate you.