Edit text with three sets of square brackets

I really like this simple syntax for editing text suggested by Aza Raskin. With the use of square brackets you can suggest additions, deletions and add comments within plain text without the need for a specific comments function in your word processor. How the system works can be illustrated by the following example:

“They called to say that their coming over in an quarter-hour.”

An editor might revise the sentence to:

“They called to say that the[ir][y’re] coming over in a[n] quarter-hour. [][][Be careful with “their” and “they’re”.]”

The edits are deciphered like so:

  • the[ir][y’re]: โ€œtheirโ€ was used when โ€œtheyโ€™reโ€ was meant. To fix this problem the editor suggestions deleting โ€œirโ€ and replacing it with โ€œyโ€™reโ€.
  • a[n]: โ€œAnโ€ should only used before a word that begins with a vowel-like sound. The editor suggests removing the โ€œnโ€ of โ€œanโ€.
  • [][][Be careful…]: The editor is reprimanding the author for forgetting the rules of English. Notice the two sets of empty brackets that prefix the comment. They are needed to make sure that comment cannot be confused for an addition or deletion.

Hence, the first set of brackets denotes a deletion, a set of brackets directly following the first set denotes an addition and a third set denotes a comment.


If you don’t want to make a comment the third set of brackets is simply excluded. The same logic follows if all you want to do is to mark a deletion, then both the second and the third set of bracket are excluded. If you want to make a comment to a deletion the second set of brackets is left empty. And so on. If this was not clear from the example above the following list may be helpful.

Suggest a deletion: [xxx]
Suggest an addition : [][yyy]
Suggest a substitution: [xxx][yyy]
Suggest a deletion and add a comment: [xxx][][zzz]
Suggest an addition and add a comment: [][yyy][zzz]
Suggest a substitution and add a comment: [xxx][yyy][zzz]

where “xxx” is the text to be deleted, “yyy” the text to be added and “zzz” a comment.

Read Aza Raskin’s original post: Collaboration Made Simple with Bracket Notation.

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