Bracket interference

Here’s another example of the hazards of inserting bracketed information into direct quotes. This time, the insidious practice has created a fact error.

The problem pops up in an otherwise effective story about Lou Holtz, who has been a football coach at N.C. State and South Carolina, among other destinations. The story, which appears today in both The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, has Holtz compare his highs and lows at each school. It’s told in an alternative form, organized by theme. Here is what appears in The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer under “disappointing losses”:

The rush to splice in brackets to clarify Holtz’s reference to this disputed play has led to an error. Clemson scored a field goal to win that game, not a touchdown.

A better option is to use a sentence before the quote to set up the play that Holtz is talking about. That will eliminate the awkwardness of the bracketed material. Then check to make sure that sentence is correct.

This is a curious mistake from a reporter who has written books about Clemson football, but perhaps an editor is to blame. It may be small thing in the scope of world events, but these details matter to sports fans, especially in coverage of a rivalry game. They expect sports departments, as the experts on lore and arcana, to get those details right.

UPDATE: The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., also ran the story. No one there caught the error either.



  1. Keep fighting on this. The overuse of brackets is almost always a case of an editor trying to make a quote fit a mental stylebook or answer a question it can’t. It’s best, as you say, to set up the quote with some outside-the-quote explanation or don’t use it.

  2. If you want to see a newspaper that REALLY overuses the quote brackets, check out the Lawrence Journal World. I want to scream each time I see them add things in brackets that are obvious to any reasonable reader.

    In fact, it offends me when people assume I can’t tie some of the completely obvious references together on my own.

    By the way thanks for the feedback last week.

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