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I'm currently doing an essay and I haven't previously given context

"private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ databases." how d I explain what GCHQ is? Is this correct? "private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ[Government Communications Headquarters] databases."

Or should I just put if after the quote?

  • I think that's the usual way. Square brackets in a quote are assumed to not be a part of the quote. – Hot Licks Mar 5 '15 at 1:01
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    GCHQ? Ixnay! Ixnay! Igbay Otherbay is atchingway! – user98990 Mar 5 '15 at 1:47
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I think your solution of including the explanation of what the acronym GCHQ means by using square brackets within the quote is an elegant one, especially if there is no earlier opportunity to spell out the acronym.

Depending on the style and length of your essay, another option would be a footnote.

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Typically, the first instance of an acronym is written out in full, followed by the acronym in parentheses. If you are generating the body of text yourself, use this format:

... private contractors with top secret clearance had access to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) databases.

Future references to this acronym can be simply made as GCHQ now that you've defined what that means.

If you are quoting another work, you should include your text after the acronym in brackets (as you have done in your question, but with an added space):

... private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters] databases.

An alternative, of course, is to include the full term in a glossary at the end of your publication (if it's long enough to warrant a glossary) and just use the acronym by itself in your text:

... private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ databases.


Side note: I'm not 100% certain, but I think that Top Secret is the proper name of a clearance level and should be capitalized.

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