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  • Writer's pictureBeth Linton

Punctuation Made Easy: Brackets & Dashes

The purpose of this #writerssupportingwriters blog is to run through the rules of two advanced punctuation types: brackets (and how to use them) and dashes. Below you can find the rules with examples and tips for use.

Brackets (also called parenthesis)

Round brackets are used to add extra information. The information included in the brackets is extra and could have been missed out of the text.

Example: Jessica (never Jess) loved to read.

Brackets can also be used to introduce a term or an abbreviation.

Example: Many soldiers return from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In the same way, brackets can be used to cross reference and direct a reader to another source or part of the text. They can also be used to add authorial voice.

Punctuation and Bracket Use

The punctuation affecting bracket use is clear but varies on where and when you use the brackets. I have included examples within the rules so you can see the rule at play.

  • If the brackets are used to add extra information in the middle of a sentence (or towards the end of a sentence) then the full stop goes on the outside of the brackets. (If you are writing a full sentence within brackets as an aside, but separate to the previous or following sentence, the full stop should be inside the brackets.)

  • Brackets might add extra information at the end of a clause (as demonstrated here), when those brackets appear at the end of a clause within the sentence the comma goes after the brackets.

  • If the bracketed aside needs a question mark or exclamation mark, you’ll still need to add a full stop on the outside to complete the sentence (understand?).

Square brackets []

These are different to round brackets/parenthesis. These are often used to insert something without changing the original text.

Example: “The boys [sic] floating in the sea saved his life.” Here [sic] has been added to indicate the spelling mistake of boys was the authors, not the reporters.

TOP TIP: Generally, brackets are used in nonfiction; I don’t use brackets within my novels. The one time I did so, the editor took them out.

Dashes (not the same a hyphens)

Firstly, we need to understand the difference between a hyphen and a dash.

Hyphens are shorter than dashes, and link two words so the word or phrase makes sense.

Dashes separate information and are a type of parenthesis, like brackets.

As an author, I use dashes a lot… but my editor is always changing the length of mine. Yep, I was using the hyphen key instead of inserting a dash. And slight OCD perfectionist that I am, I want to sort this out! Here’s what I’ve learnt this week:

It turns out that there are two forms of the little lines I really need to be aware of as an author (and it explains my edits!): em and en dashes.

The en dash = -

The em dash = (a bit longer, as the m is longer than the n.)

The Em Dash

Grammarly explain that “Em dashes save the day when other punctuation would be awkward. For instance, em dashes can replace parentheses at the end of a sentence or when multiple commas appear in a parenthetical phrase.”

They provide this example:

After a split second of hesitation, the second baseman leaped for the ball (or, rather, limped for it).

After a split second of hesitation, the second baseman leaped for the ball—or, rather, limped for it.

An em dash is more informal than introducing an idea via a colon.

As an author I find the em dash useful to:

· tack a thought on;

· indicate a pause;

· use in place of brackets.

The example above shows how you can use a dash to tack on an extra thought or idea, but I also like to use these in place of brackets to add an aside. This is useful as some editors/publishers prefer not to have brackets in romance books – I certainly don’t use brackets now. (See what I did? 😊)

Example of dashes used as brackets:

You are the friend—the only friend—who offered to help me.

You are the friend (the only friend) who offered to help me.

Here, just like an aside contained in brackets, the idea is separated out by the hyphen.

The En Dash

While the en dash looks similar to the em dash, although it is a little bit shorter, they function in a different way.

The en dash is used to signal to or through. You use it between page number, ‘please read pages 1-3’, or between dates or times. ‘The party is 2-4pm.’

The en dash may also be used to indicate a connection between two words, for example, to make a compound adjective. It is the glue that holds the words together: ‘star-studded sky’.

TOP TIPS: some editors and publishers don’t like brackets within a romance book so hyphens are really useful. Some editors/publishers like gaps between the text and the hyphen, others don’t. You’ll have to learn your publisher's preference as you go.

I wish the #writingcommunity all the best and would love to hear from you are embarking on writing your first romance book. You can contact me via the contact form on this website or via the social media links below.

Happy writing!

Beth xxx

If you found this blog helpful you might also like:

You can find @bethlintonauthor on Instagram and also on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

  • To find out about my novels click here and visit my books page where you can find the blurb for the first five books in the romance series.

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