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Using parentheses and brackets in APA Style references

Cite this
Lee, C. (2021, August 18). Using parentheses and brackets in APA Style references. APA Style.

colorful illustration of parentheses and brackets

In the seventh edition of the Publication Manual, we standardized the way to present descriptive information in references. This blog post explains how to use parentheses and square brackets in APA Style references.


APA Style uses parentheses in references to present supporting information important for a work’s identification and retrieval. Examples of information presented in parentheses in references include the following:

Information in parentheses appears either on the work itself or on closely related material (e.g., in the database record for the work). The information is presented in parentheses because it is not a part of the actual title of the work. Do not italicize parenthetical information, even if the title of the work is italicized.

The following example report reference contains a parenthetical report number:

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018). Eating disorders: About more than food (NIH Publication No. TR 17-4901). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health.

  • Parenthetical citation: (National Institute of Mental Health, 2018)
  • Narrative citation: National Institute of Mental Health (2018)

Square brackets

APA Style uses square brackets to describe works. The descriptions serve various purposes, including the following:

Square brackets indicate that the writer has provided the information and that it may not appear on the actual work. You can create your own wording for the bracketed description (see Section 9.21). Do not italicize bracketed information, even if the title of the work is italicized.

The following example YouTube video reference contains a bracketed description of form (i.e., video).

American Psychological Association. (2019, August 8). Introducing the 7th ed. APA Style Publication Manual [Video]. YouTube.

  • Parenthetical citation: (American Psychological Association, 2019)
  • Narrative citation: American Psychological Association (2019)

Choosing parentheses or brackets

In general, to determine whether to use parentheses or brackets in a reference, look at the template and reference example in the Publication Manual for the type of work you want to cite. When both parentheses and brackets are present, place the parenthetical information first and the bracketed description second.

The following dissertation example reference contains both parentheses and brackets (corresponding to the publication number in parentheses and the description of the context of the work in brackets).

Philips, L. B. (2020). The adult learner’s story: An exploratory narrative of experiencing an introductory English composition classroom (Publication No. 27547186) [Doctoral dissertation, The George Washington University]. PQDT Open.

  • Parenthetical citation: (Philips, 2020)
  • Narrative citation: Philips (2020)

We hope this post will help you use parentheses and brackets correctly in APA Style.