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The Place for Parentheses

Last week in a Better Business Writing class, Bryan asked where to use parentheses. He worried he was using them too often. I explained that parentheses are perfect when you need to enclose extra information that would otherwise break the flow of the sentence. 

But he pressed me: What kind of information would break the flow of the sentence?

Good question! To respond, I searched my computer for documents I had edited or written in the past week. Of the 19 documents, 15 contained parentheses.

As you read these examples from my files, slightly modified, think about whether you would use parentheses or another kind of punctuation to set off the information. Or would you do something different?

  1. Ask the group or the meeting facilitator whether to record (write) the information.
  2. Forward the meeting notes to the meeting leader (if there is one) for approval before they are distributed.
  3. Contact Sally Hand (206-555-5555, to sign up for a shift. 
  4. Meeting purpose: To plan actions for converting our conference room (H-4) into a workspace for special-project employees.
  5. The other half of the funds will be split between Friends of the Orphans ( and Partners in Health (, both active in Haiti for years.
  6. Rule: Do not use myself unless it refers to an I used earlier in the sentence. (Example: I talked to the client myself.)
  7. Good is used to describe things and people (nouns and pronouns), but well is used to describe actions (verbs).
  8. As the adjuster assigned to your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claim, I am writing to explain the details of your PIP coverage.
  9. Attendees: Ernie Edwards (facilitator), Carla Gomes, David Hershey, Rashid Mahmood, Nathan Plumb, and Lee Reed (notetaker).
  10. Top 12 Pet Peeves (Worst Practices) in Business Writing

Despite their being out of context, I think the examples illustrate how parentheses can hold information that would have interrupted sentence flow or distracted the reader.

Do you agree? What would you have told Bryan?

Syntax Training (my company)

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “The Place for Parentheses”

  • In #5, I would have just used commas or no punctuation.
    #6 needs to be posted on every bulletin board in America.

  • In #6, the word “myself” is not necessary. You could simply say: I talked to the client.
    Many uses of “-self” pronouns are redundant or unnecessary, especially in writing as opposed to speech. We forgive and forget a lot more when it involves the spoken word.

  • Hey I like your examples..Specially examples #6 and #7 are really good.I think that many people don’t know the difference between good and well.I like that you have put these examples here.

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