Helpful Tips and Advice on Using Parenthetical Clauses Effectively
Contemporary advice about writing tends to prioritise simplicity, even for academic and scientific writing, so simple sentences are preferred by many publishers and online venues, including scholarly ones. As a reaction against excessively convoluted prose riddled with specialised terminology and jargon that excludes more readers than it reaches, this ideal of simplicity can be immensely helpful when academics and scientists are writing up their research. Given that scholarly prose often reflects the research behind it by becoming extremely complex, a mantra along the lines of ‘keep it simple’ can promote clarity and accessibility.
However, there are certainly times when the simplest sentence structure will not accommodate the processes and ideas a scholarly author must present in text. This is often due to the fact that modification, elaboration, explanation and the like are required to provide an accurate and thorough description for readers. Such parenthetical material and the parenthetical clauses that contain it can quickly complicate the structure of sentences and, if not used with care, can even produce confusion where more effective communication was the goal. It is therefore essential to keep a few basic guidelines in mind while adding parenthetical thoughts and details to academic and scientific prose.
• First and foremost, do not overuse parenthetical clauses whether they are enclosed in commas, dashes or parentheses. If every sentence is laden with parenthetical clauses, your prose will come across as dense and difficult to read. Descriptions of research findings, for instance, are often heavily weighted with parenthetical material in order to provide details and variations in as few words as possible, but even in such cases keeping parenthetical clauses to a minimum will render your prose more accessible and your text more engaging.
• Remember that parenthetical thoughts are, by nature, a distraction from the main thought or focus of a sentence. Whenever you interrupt the flow of that main thought with a mid-sentence parenthetical clause it is important to ensure that the distraction is not so long or complicated that the reader cannot readily reconnect with the main thought once the parenthetical clause ends. If possible while retaining accuracy, placing parenthetical material at the beginning or end of a sentence instead of in the middle can plant the additional information more securely in readers’ minds.
• If you find yourself writing a sentence that requires more than one parenthetical clause, using different formats (parentheses around one, for example, and commas around another) can be helpful if used with care. Too many sentences of this kind will not prove effective, however, so a sentence that is becoming overburdened with parenthetical material may be far better as two or three sentences with fewer parenthetical structures. Expansion of this sort often unpacks the material more effectively for readers, though it does tend to use more words.
• Finally, whenever you include parenthetical thoughts and information in a sentence, be sure to position and present it in such a way that it is absolutely clear that the material is parenthetical to the main thought. Correct use of commas, dashes and parentheses will achieve this, and choosing with care the position for each parenthetical clause will ensure that the material will apply to exactly what it is intended to modify or qualify.
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