Tech Writing Tip: Where to Place Other Punctuation When Using Parentheses

Parentheses are a useful tool for adding supplementary information to a sentence or paragraph. They can be used to set off information that is helpful, but not vital, to the sentence or to add an extra thought within a paragraph.

But as a technical editor with ASCENT, I often have to fix punctuation when parentheses are involved. Does the period go inside or outside the parenthesis? What about question marks, exclamation marks, etc.? The answer is… it depends!

In the Middle of a Sentence

If the parenthetical phrase is in the middle of a sentence, no period is needed. Even if the parentheses contain a complete sentence, it needs to start with a lowercase letter and the period is omitted. If the contained sentence ends with a question mark or exclamation mark, keep it and place it inside the parentheses.

Incorrect: Hover the cursor (Do not click.) by positioning the small pick box directly over the object to be erased.

Correct: Hover the cursor (do not click) by positioning the small pick box directly over the object to be erased.

Correct: Hover the cursor (do not click!) by positioning the small pick box directly over the object to be erased.

At the End of a Sentence

If the parenthetical phrase is at the end of a sentence, the period should go outside of the parentheses, even if the parentheses contain a complete sentence.

Incorrect: Move the crosshairs straight to the right from the start point (you might need to first pan down in the drawing.)

Correct: Move the crosshairs straight to the right from the start point (you might need to first pan down in the drawing).

For a Question

Even if the parentheses contain a question, the main sentence should still finish with a period at the end. If the main sentence is a question, the question mark should go outside the parentheses. The trick is to treat the main sentence as if the parenthetical phrase/sentence isn’t there.

Correct: When editing text, you can change the justification of the multiline text object (do you want the text to be left, right, or centered?).

Incorrect: When editing text, how do you change the justification of the multiline text object (left, right, centered?)

Correct: When editing text, how do you change the justification of the multiline text object (left, right, centered)?

For Standalone Sentences

If the parentheses contain a complete sentence but are not part of another sentence, any terminal punctuation should be inside the parentheses. You can even have multiple sentences within parentheses.

Correct: Click along the upper left end point of the rectangle to draw the line. (The Endpoint object snap is already selected.)

For a Period (or Two)

You should never have two periods (one inside the parentheses and one outside) ending the sentence. Either the parentheses can be treated as part of the main sentence and the inside period omitted (as in the first correct example) or the parentheses can be treated as a standalone sentence (as in the second correct example).

Incorrect: To set the Snap or Grid spacing in a drawing, set the X- and Y-spacing for the Snap and/or Grid (These are usually the same.).

Correct: To set the Snap or Grid spacing in a drawing, set the X- and Y-spacing for the Snap and/or Grid (these are usually the same).

Correct: To set the Snap or Grid spacing in a drawing, set the X- and Y-spacing for the Snap and/or Grid. (These are usually the same.)

For Other Punctuation

Other types of punctuation that belong to the main sentence, like commas and colons, should follow the parentheses.

Incorrect: Instead of having to insert a component multiple times, (such as brick or concrete block) you can use the Repeating Detail Component command and create a string of components.

Correct: Instead of having to insert a component multiple times (such as brick or concrete block), you can use the Repeating Detail Component command and create a string of components.

Overall, when working with parentheses in your writing, the key thing to keep in mind is that the main sentence should be treated as if the parenthetical phrase/sentence were not there. There shouldn’t be duplicated punctuation marks at the end of a sentence, and there should always be a terminal punctuation mark that is appropriate for the main sentence placed outside of the parentheses.

About the Author

Breanne MacDonald

Technical Editor<br><br>Fueled by her meticulous nature, an eye for detail, and a love of books, Breanne has been an editor for over 10 years. She has been a technical editor with ASCENT since 2019, and outside the office she is the treasurer of the Editors’ Association of Canada. Breanne holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University and a certificate in publishing from Ryerson University.

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