Your essays should predominantly be written in the present tense – is, shows, explores ideas about, purpose is to….
However, QUOTATIONS don’t always fit smoothly in our essays when a novel or article is written in the PAST tense.
That’s when these little guys [ ] come in really handy. They tell a marker that you have CHANGED or ADDED something in the quotation.
EXAMPLE 1: GETTING THE TENSE CONSISTENT
In the opening of his dystopian novel, Orwell states that “it [is] a bright cold day in April, and the clocks [are] striking thirteen” as a way of signposting that all is not normal in this futuristic London.
The actual quote is “It was a bright cold day….the clocks were striking…”
My marker can see [ ] that for the purposes of grammatical correctness, I have amended the tense.
This tells them - I know how to use verb tense and punctuation properly. Reward me! 😊
EXAMPLE 2: PROVIDING SOME NECESSARY INFORMATION
Orwell shows how serious the surveillance in Airstrip One is when he says “they [thought police] watched everybody all the time”.
It may not be clear to a marker who “they” are – so I provide the context for my marker using the square brackets. I need my marker to be able to follow my argument
AND THAT’S IT. TOO EASY! Be careful though – you can’t use [ ] to change the writer’s meaning to suit yourself. And don’t use these ones ( ) - that would be wrong. 😊