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TypeLaw Tip: Punctuation around Parens

Having helped format thousands of briefs, we’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to a vast sample of legal writing. One issue we often see in briefs is the incorrect placement of punctuation around parentheses. (This was something that I struggled with when we first started TypeLaw.)

Here is a quick rule to remember:

The period goes inside the parens if the text inside the parens is a complete sentence.

For example, when the text inside of the parens is a complete sentence, the period goes inside the parens:

Incorrect:
This is a sentence. (This is another complete sentence).

Correct:
This is a sentence. (This is another complete sentence.)

The opposite is true; when the text in the parens is NOT a sentence, the period goes outside the parens:

Incorrect:
This is a sentence (that just happens to have a fragment in parens.)

Correct:
This is a sentence (that just happens to have a fragment in parens).

In legal writing, the amount of punctuation found in citations can sometimes make this a bit more confusing. Something to remember is that a citation sentence is still a sentence.

For example:

Incorrect:
There is no direct public entity liability for negligence. (Gov. Code, § 815, subd. (a)).

Incorrect:
There is no direct public entity liability for negligence. (Gov. Code, § 815, subd. (a.))

Correct:
There is no direct public entity liability for negligence. (Gov. Code, § 815, subd. (a).)

I hope this explanation helps a little. We believe that even small things, like correctly placing the period inside or outside of the parens, help put your best foot forward in front of the court.