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In scientific writing it is common to use parentheses to refer to the details of statistical analyses at the end of a sentence. However, it is also common to refer to figures or tables this way. Often I find that the same sentence requires both a reference to statistical details and a figure (example below). Should I use adjacent parenthetical references or separate the statistical information from the figure reference with a semicolon?

Treatment A contained significantly greater mass than treatment B (p = 0.001)(Figure 1).

OR

Treatment A contained significantly greater mass than treatment B (p = 0.001; Figure 1).

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Don't write pairs of parentheses back to back (don't do it)(no, really!). Either you can put on of the two items in the main text:

Treatment A contained significantly greater mass than treatment B (p = 0.001), as show on Figure 1.

or use the semicolon, as you proposed:

Treatment A contained significantly greater mass than treatment B (p = 0.001; Figure 1).

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I don't know what the specific rule is, but I would agree with you. Both of your options look better than back to back parens to me. –  Kevin Apr 4 '11 at 19:11
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In addition to the warning, as much as you may see programmers nesting parathesis as a joke you also should never do that. –  MrHen Apr 4 '11 at 19:34
    
thanks, I appreciate the feedback –  KennyPeanuts Apr 4 '11 at 22:46
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As this is a question about scientific writing, I suggest you consult a style manual specific to your field, or, if it's for publication, the publisher's style sheet. Different fields and different publishers may have different standard ways of dealing with this issue.

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If you know of a field where back-to-back parentheses are advised, I'd be interested. –  F'x Apr 4 '11 at 19:44
    
+1 While I agree with you, F'x, I also think msh210's advice is good (and often-overlooked). –  msanford Apr 5 '11 at 2:16
    
I would be quite surprised if the question of back-to-back parentheses was treated by any style manual. –  Peter Shor Aug 6 '11 at 11:04
    
This is my field, and I'm unaware of any guidance from style manuals on this question. Rather, this is a situation requiring judgement and editorial skill. F'x gives proper advice above. –  The Raven Nov 17 '11 at 13:51
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Perhaps you should consider using square brackets for Figure#. B (p = 0.001)[Figure 1].

Assuming, as TheRaven says, this is not dealt with by your relevant style guide.

We may not overlook the fact that some readers (manual as well as automatic) specifically look for patterns. When I am interested in statistical details alone, I would quickly look-up all occurrences that are enclosed in parentheses as the first pass.

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