Unburdening the Parentheses (round brackets): Suggestion to Use a New Symbol for Acronyms and Abbreviations

In sentences, parentheses (or round brackets) is used:

  • To set off information that is useful to the reader
  • In place of Em dashes or commas
  • To provide remarks, additional information, cross-references, definitions, or acronyms

Let us look at some examples of the many ways in which parentheses are used in technical documentation:

Purpose of Parentheses Examples
For direct reference to a location in a document
  • Figure 1: Front Door Layout (Left); Rear Door Layout (Right).
  • Insert the key into the threaded holes (see Table 6).
To provide additional information that the reader can do without but which will be quite useful
  • Connection assembly (vertical and horizontal) description is available online.
  • Enter the serial number (if applicable).
  • This rating is required by the Rules Group (standard authority).
  • If you want to use separate plug-ins (such as Application Control or Network Manager), install the plug-ins before updating the server.
For giving timely information that is very useful for non-technical users
  • Adjust your browser zoom (CTRL/CMD + or CTRL/CMD -)
  • The authoring tool remembers your choice (menu open or closed) in a session.
  • Use the minus sign (hyphen on the keyboard).
To provide specifics or other names of an entry
  • Edit database storage structures (tablespaces)
  • Create database objects (such as tables and indexes)
Where without the information the user might lose their way or unnecessarily perform some steps
  • To specify your product type, use a license manager (if it is a concurrent-use product), or provide authorization rights to your software (in case yours is a single-use product).
  • Use your computer (for local configuration) or VPN (for remote configuration).
  • Install SQL Server Express to store the database objects (optional).

There are other examples but overall, parentheses make the meaning of the sentence clear. Parentheses hold additional information.

Here are some acronyms:

  • Ticket vending machine (TVM)
  • Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (MSTP)
  • For more information, see the master document list (MDL) of the project.
  • The functional design specification (FDS) lists the features for the current release.
  • Secure socket layer (SSL)
  • Hardware Management Console (HMC) virtual appliance (HMC virtual appliance).

By acronyms I also mean the common ones such as UI, PDF, LASER, dpi, and GB.

Note: I am not getting into the differences between acronyms and abbreviations. This post is about the usage of parentheses for abbreviations.

While parentheses for holding additional information between the round brackets “(“ and “)” is fine, the use of parentheses for acronyms (including initialisms and other abbreviations) seems odd.

Yes, writers and editors have been using it for such a long time…but there seems to be a lack of parallelism. The information within the parentheses is always additional. But in the case of acronyms and abbreviations, the parentheses hold a shorter form.

So, shouldn’t there be a difference?

True, I can hear some shrill and coarse voices saying, “that’s not the end of the world”. Sure, I agree – it is not yet the end of the world. But take it as a suggestion and why not? We strive to improve quality through editing. This might help.

I felt that the round brackets are overloaded. They hold everything inside and they play a part in mathematics too. Therefore, I want to help the round brackets shed a slight load!

My suggestion is to use a different type of symbol for acronyms instead of the parentheses. The curly braces “{ACRONYM}” or the square bracket “[ACRONYM]”? But these are used in equations a lot. The pipe symbol |ACRONYM| is used in programming statements. So that leaves us very little choice.

Here are some ideas that can be used. But it would involve creating a new keyboard character or additional typing.
___________
) ACRONYM (
___________
| ACRONYM |
_________
{ACRONYM}
___________
> ACRONYM <

Thus, I am forced to suggest round brackets but inverted. The new way of way notating acronyms and abbreviations will look as follows:

) ACRONYM (

This will be easy to remember and in time will be accepted as the norm.

The style guides of this world—)MSTP(, )IBM(, )APA(, )SPE(, and so on—should listen in. In case, this symbol is used elsewhere – then let us invent a new symbol.

If you have read this far, then you will provide your feedback or comments (I hope!)

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