For clearer writing, ditch ‘etc.,’ ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’

These Latin abbreviations don’t impress, they confuse. Here’s what to write instead.

The wonderful thing about editing is that every day you discover a new peeve.

My latest are the Latin-derived etc.i.e., and e.g. They annoy readers, they’re lazy, and you don’t need them.

What they have in common is that, because they’re Latin, they’re supposed to make the writer sound more sophisticated, but instead, they just leave the reader puzzled.

etc.

Etc. abbreviates et cetera, which is how you pronounce it. Literally, it means “and similar things, and so forth.” But what it actually conveys is, “I could list more, but I’m too lazy to do so; you detect the pattern.”

Here are some sentences I’ve edited that included “etc.”

Older people who have to give up driving, because of age, ailments, etc., have similar needs for affordable, safe, and convenient transportation.

Ideally, interview Round 4 is onsite with the three other interviewers and meeting the hiring manager casually for coffee, etc.

There are multiple training functions and audiences, such as compliance, leadership development, diversity, sales., etc.

News angle: . . . Personal data in the Digital Economy: How the rise of Big Data to personalize product recommendations steers/impacts customers; privacy concerns, etc.

My problem with each of these is the same: The writer knows the list is not complete and wants to imply there are many more but is unwilling or unable to provide enough to show you the pattern.

As a result, you, the reader, are left to detect the pattern on your own. What other reasons do old people have for giving up driving? What happens in Round 4 other than a casual meeting? What other training functions and audiences exist? Are there other news angles?

You’ll have to figure that out on your own, and “etc.” isn’t giving you any clues.

There are two simple ways to fix this.

The first is that if you want to imply there are more things in a list but haven’t got space to list them, just say “including,” “like,” or “such as.” For example:

Older people who have to give up driving because of problems including aging and ailments have similar needs for affordable, safe, and convenient transportation.

You can tell the reader the pattern:

Interview round 4 include more informal meetings, such as meeting the hiring manager for coffee.

Or, better, you can rewrite the sentence to clarify what you are trying to get across:

Training functions and audiences are countless and varied; they include compliance, leadership development, diversity and sales.

One news angle is Personal data in the Digital Economy. We could write about how the rise of Big Data to personalize product recommendations steers/impacts customers. We could also address the resulting privacy concerns. Do you have ideas for any similar topics?

Notice how “including,” “like,” and “such as” communicate the same thing—that there are more elements not listed—without challenging the reader to detect the pattern that the writer hasn’t or can’t specify.

i.e.

“I.e.” abbreviates “id est,” and simply means, “that is.” Unlike “etc.,” it’s never pronounced in full.

It is useless and signifies only that you have your nose in the air.

Here are some examples:

The other most commonly cited business impacts [of mobility] included improvements in collaboration and communication, both internally (i.e., between employees, teams, departments, etc.) and externally (i.e., with partners).

Those investment initiatives are for vehicles that will be sold under the automotive industry’s existing business models, i.e., vehicle sales or leasing through the established dealer networks.

My problem with “i.e.” is that it usually means that you tried to say something and weren’t clear enough, so you had to say it again. It’s not a coincidence that it often appears commingled with jargon and passive voice. And it’s an obvious sign that you would be better off rewriting the sentence.

The other most commonly cited business impacts [of mobility] included improvements in collaboration and communication. This includes both internal interactions among employees, teams, and departments, and external interactions with partners.

Those investment initiatives are for vehicles distributed in the traditional way, through a network of dealers that sell or lease them.

e.g.

“E.g.” abbreviates “exempli gratia” (hardly anybody knows that) and means “for example.”

So just say “for example” or “such as.”

E.g. is a meaningless flourish.

Each of these types carries different investment requirements, necessitates a different regulatory approval process, and needs different infrastructures, e.g., communication, electrification, transportation, to be in place.

The combination of owned (e.g., websites), earned (e.g., social media sharing) and paid (e.g., advertising) media across platforms and devices makes attribution of results tied to digital investments complicated.

Rewriting these is easy. Do you find these rewrites clearer?

Each of these types carries different investment requirements, necessitates a different regulatory approval process, and depends on different communication, electrification, and transportation infrastructures.

Attribution of results tied to digital investments is difficult because it depends on a combination of cross-platform, cross device assets: owned media like websites, earned media like social platforms, and paid media like advertising.

We’re untangling multiple layers of series here. “E.g.” adds conceptual difficulty.

Those Latin abbreviations won’t set off a copy editor’s alarm bells; they’re not incorrect. They do, however, make it harder for readers whose native language is not Latin—that is, everyone—to parse what you’re saying. Like most academia-derived language tics, they interfere with the communication of meaning. And they’re easy to spot and fix.

So fix them. Your reader will thank you.

Josh Bernoff is a writer based in Massachusetts. A version of this post first appeared on Without Bullshit.

COMMENT

One Response to “For clearer writing, ditch ‘etc.,’ ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’”

    Elizabeth Lowe says:

    I agree that etc. would not be appropriate in a work-related document such as a press release, although I wouldn’t consider using any of these terms lazy when they’re used in informal, personal writing. Unfortunately it seems that the meaning of these terms must not be taught – I run into a lot of people who don’t know what they mean, along with abbreviations such as re:, I would think would be clear that this means “regarding,” given that any reply email starts with this abbreviation.

    Writing to impress is always a mistake; writing to clearly communicate should be the goal. It’s smart to drop a lot of big words, and small ones too, that people stumble over. When a reader stumbles, they lose their train of thought. I doubt the people who use these terms are trying to impress or have their noses in the air; it has simply been a standard way of communicating that was instantly grasped, although it apparently is not being taught at this time.

    Thanks for a reminder that language changes over time. We need to be aware of the changes in order to communicate.

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