[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]As an editor, I strive to protect the reader from irritants like long-winded sentences, jargon, and empty platitudes that can render entire articles meaningless. Most days I can put on my superhero cape and fight the good fight of stripping out adjectives and adverbs, decoding corporate-speak, and untangling the gnarliest of syntax. But sometimes, I come across paragraphs like this that make me want to lie down in a dark room and take deep, cleansing breaths:
Due to the different starting points of various companies (incomplete data lineage, siloed data quality management, platform modernization, etc.), their data management pathways will differ. However, to put their organizations on the path to digital transformation, companies must use all available solutions (i.e., smart cataloguing, data privacy and security, data archival and disposal, consumption-driven governance (incl. analytics, discovery and API), self-service capabilities, agile) and emerging technologies (incl. ChatBots, mobile apps and blockchain). Migrating to the cloud will play a crucial role (next to the other drivers).
When something is difficult to read, there can be many culprits. In this case, it’s an overuse of parentheses that packs the paragraph with more information than is needed in a disjointed and disruptive way. We even have parentheses within parentheses, which takes the lack of readability to a whole new level.
When you try to pack too much information into a sentence, it becomes harder to comprehend. The parentheses become speed bumps that slow readers down as they try to absorb all the tangents. Your job is to make the ride as quick and smooth as possible by, for instance, turning this:
Under the new rule, companies will be required to describe their diversity and inclusion efforts, including any diversity and inclusion initiatives that the company focuses on in managing its workforce (e.g., those that address the development, attraction, and retention of underrepresented talent).
Under the new rule, companies will be required to describe their diversity and inclusion efforts, including any initiatives the company uses to develop, attract and retain underrepresented talent.
The purpose of parentheses is to interject something important but secondary to the main point of a sentence. Many people use them as an aside or point of clarification, and sometimes it’s entirely appropriate, like in this example:
Even if you didn’t do the recommended homework (reading Practice Tests 1 & 2), you can still benefit from trying out the questions we’re about to review here.
But in most professional writing, I’ve found it better to incorporate the example or point of clarification into the main sentence. It’s less visual clutter and easier on your readers.
One reason I suspect people overuse parentheses is a lack of appreciation for examples. They think it might be a good idea to include some examples in their writing but don’t consider them as important as the point they are making. However, it’s often the examples that enable readers to fully comprehend what a writer’s trying to say.
For example, take this sentence:
To put their organizations on the path to digital transformation, companies will need to use every available solution.
Anyone who reads this is likely to think, “Use every available solution? What are those solutions?” So, the writer adds this:
To put their organizations on the path to digital transformation, companies must use every available solution (i.e., smart cataloguing, data privacy and security, data archival and disposal, consumption-driven governance, self-service capabilities, agile and emerging technologies including ChatBots, mobile apps and blockchain).
Now that’s a mouthful. I’m guessing the writer thought that putting the example in parentheses gives her license to include every possible solution, which does the reader a disservice. But reduce the number of examples and incorporate them into the sentence, and it becomes much easier to comprehend:
To put their organization on the path to digital transformation, companies must use every available solution, such as smart cataloging, data privacy and security, and data archival and disposal.
Another thing I’ve noticed about the use of parentheses is they can become a crutch for throwing in examples and clarifications without explaining them well enough for the reader to understand. Spending any amount of time with this kind of writing becomes more of a mindreading exercise than a reading one, like with this sentence:
Due to the different starting points of various companies (incomplete data lineage, siloed data quality management, platform modernization, etc.), their data management pathways will differ.
Whenever I read this kind of parenthetical shorthand, I not only slow down but become uncertain I get what the writer is trying to say. Then I start to guess. Does she mean companies have different levels of incomplete data lineage? And what is data lineage? Hmmm. I’ll skip this part.
You don’t want your readers to have to guess what you’re trying to say. If you need to clarify what you mean by your statement that companies undergoing digital transformation have different starting points then, by all means, use complete sentences and specific examples, like this:
Due to the different starting points of various companies, their data management pathways will differ. For example, one company may have good data cataloging but struggle to provide customers their data in a timely fashion. Another might be good at both those things but have an urgent need to comply with data privacy and security legislation.
See how much clearer the point is?
So, here’s my advice on parentheses: Use them sparingly. And if you’re one of those people who uses them excessively, abstinence may be best. At least for a little while. It will force you to reword, shorten, and break up your sentences in ways that can’t help but improve your writing.
Also, examples are essential for good writing, so don’t banish them to a life between parentheses. Instead, use commas or dashes to work them into the sentence, like in the examples I’ve provided. Don’t let parentheses allow you to be lazy. I know, I know. Writing is hard. But you’re better than that.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]