Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fearless Punctuation Tip - Parentheses, Slashes and Dashes.

Are you in a writing rut? It is easiest to write using the methods we are already familiar with, but this may limit our creativity. Getting comfortable with punctuation can add variety to your writing. We have put together a short “Fearless Punctuation” series so that you can dust the cobwebs off of that grade school English knowledge, and hopefully to help you start having fun using punctuation.

Parentheses, and Dashes and Slashes. Oh My!

These three types of punctuation are very useful for including supplementary information or creating emphasis in your writing. Each mark is appropriate to specific scenarios. Keep in mind that they should be used sparingly, as they may create a choppy effect.

1) Parentheses are used to:
  • insert information including: supplemental material, changes in subject or afterthoughts
  • order items in a list or series
Parentheses are especially useful in draft revisions, allowing you to add in new information as you read. Generally, parenthesis should be avoided in finished work. In subsequent edits, the information they contain can usually be integrated in your piece without the use of parentheses.

Example 1
Proper use of parentheses:
The permit stipulates that: (1) work may only take place during daylight hours; (2) no work may take place within 500 feet of active raptor or songbird nests; (3) daily clearance survey must be conducted by a qualified biologist prior to any ground disturbing activities; (4) a monitoring biologist must be present during all work activities to ensure compliance with the permit and (5) monthly monitoring reports will be submitted to the Department of Fish and Game for review.
--This example shows proper use of parentheses in a list. The parentheses help the reader to note each of the important requirements in the series.

Example 2
Incorrect use of parentheses:
Each year almost two million people (of which 90% are children under 5 years of age) die due to waterborne diseases.
Correction:
Each year almost two million people die due to waterborne diseases; 90 percent of those affected are children under five years of age.
--In this example, information that may be very important for the reader is presented as an afterthought in parentheses. The sentence is also informal. The correction, using a semicolon, is more professional and gives more importance to the statistic. Also note that in professional writing, numerals from one to nine should be fully written out, as well as “percent,” rather than “%.”

2) Dashes are used to:
  • give emphasis to supplementary information
  • introduce a list, to show a paraphrase, or
  • indicate a shift in the tone or topic of your writing
Example 1
Incorrect use of dashes:
There are numerous examples of firms—with superior corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs—that have done well, as well as firms—with poor CSR reputations—that have performed poorly. However, for most firms, most of the time, financial performance is unrelated to corporate social responsibility.
Correction:
There are numerous examples of firms with superior corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs that have done well—as well as firms with poor CSR reputations that have performed poorly. However, for most firms—most of the time—financial performance is unrelated to corporate social responsibility.
--Dashes in this example do not emphasize the most important information to further understanding. In the correction, dashes draw attention to supplementary information that supports the argument.

Example 2
Incorrect use of dashes:
There are numerous measurements: satellite data, radiosondes, borehole analysis, glacial melt observations, sea ice melt, sea level rise and permafrost melt—that indicate the general trend and magnitude of climate change.
Correction:
There are numerous measurements—satellite data, radiosondes, borehole analysis, glacial melt observations, sea ice melt, sea level rise and permafrost melt—that indicate the general trend and magnitude of climate change on Earth.
--In this example, a dash is used incorrectly after a colon. To use a dash to offset items in a list, bookend the list by beginning and ending with dashes, as shown in the corrected version.

3) Slashes are most often used to distinguish paired terms such as “he/she”. They are usually read as “or” or “and.” They are also used in abbreviations (i.e., w/, w/out, and/or). Slashes are useful for notes and brainstorming, but are generally not appropriate in academic or professional writing.

Example 1
Incorrect use of slashes:
The budget proposal would increase fees for inactive oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters to $4/acre.
Correction:
The budget proposal would increase fees for inactive oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters to four dollars per acre.
--The use of slashes and other shorthand in this example is informal. In the more professional correction the unnecessary slash is replaced with “per,” and “four dollars” is written out rather than “$4.”

Example 2
Incorrect use of slashes:
The environmentalists/scientists assert that preserving coastal sage scrub and/or chaparral habitats in the vicinity is crucial to the survival of local coastal California gnatcatcher populations.
Correction:
Scientists and environmentalists assert that preserving coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats in the vicinity is crucial to the survival of the local coastal California gnatcatcher populations.
--In this example, the slash is unnecessary. The paired terms can be separated, as shown in the correction.

References:
Hacker, D. (1999). A Writer’s Reference, 4th Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

--Danica Schaffer-Smith

1 comment:

  1. Your references to parentheses do not mention your own particular application in a structured (non-sentence) list, whereby you "close" a parenthetic item, but do not "open" it.

    1)

    I have always called the "left" parenthesis the "open" parenthesis. I'm confounded (and corrupted by modern coding syntax) when something is closed that was never opened. Further, I've never seen the left parenthesis applied. How is it this has been lost if it were ever correct to use its mate?

    ReplyDelete