Jean’s question: “Just wondering if you could clarify the use of parentheses. I have a colleague who uses parentheses because she finds them ‘cleaner.’ I beg to differ.”
BizWritingTip response: When you have material within a sentence that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, you must set this material off. You could use commas, dashes or parentheses.
However, if there is already a comma within the non-essential material, choose dashes or parentheses.
I will visit my favourite cities, Rome and Barcelona, while on the cruise. (I can use commas for the non-essential material because there is no comma within this information.)
I will visit my favourite cities — Rome and Barcelona — while on the cruise.
I will visit my favourite cities (Rome and Barcelona) while on the cruise.
I will visit my favourite cities — Rome, Barcelona and Casablanca — while on the cruise.
I will visit my favourite cities (Rome, Barcelona and Casablanca) while on the cruise.
Either dashes or parentheses are acceptable, but the dashes tend to create emphasis. The parentheses make the details seem less important. Therefore, it is not a matter of appearing “cleaner.” It’s about the amount of stress you wish to place on additional information.
Note: When I provide additional information for an example, I place the explanation in parentheses because I want to emphasize the example — not the explanation.