By Marian Mostovy
When I’m editing medical content for regulatory, physician, and sales professionals, I come across practices that just don’t cut it when it comes to the abbreviations eg, ie, and etc. Here are some pitfalls and how to avoid them.
1. Inserting periods. You may have noticed I didn’t use periods with these abbreviations in my opening sentence. That’s because I’m following the dictates of the American Medical Association’s style guide, the definitive reference for medical and scientific writers. Since the common practice we all learned in school is to insert periods—e.g., i.e., etc.—leaving them out can take some getting used to. Of course, you may want to use this more popular style for communications designed to strike a chord with lay audiences.
2. Confusing eg and ie. This mix-up is surprisingly common, although the meanings are distinctly different. The abbreviation “eg” is used to introduce examples, where “ie” is used in lieu of “in other words” to clarify the meaning of the previous word or phrase. If you are a curious person—or want to impress your colleagues—you may want to know both abbreviations have Latin roots. Exempli gratia, shortened to eg, means “for the sake of example” while id est, shortened to ie, translates to “that is.”
It’s easy to keep these look-alike cousins separate if you substitute “for example” for eg and “that is” for ie in your mind before putting pen to paper. Another tack is to think about eg as opening the possibilities and ie as narrowing down the specific meaning.
Here’s an illustration of each in a sentence.
- Many pharmacies only stock a quantity of certain medications (eg, drugs for rare diseases and restricted medications) based on the amount used in a typical week.
Explanation: In this case, the writer uses eg to signal that what follows are examples of the medications being discussed.
- Many pharmacies only stock a quantity of certain medications based on the amount sold in a typical week (ie, they don’t keep surplus on hand).
Explanation: Here, the phrase that follows ie makes it clearer what the writer is trying to convey in the first part of the sentence.
3. Using eg with etc in the same phrase. Remember, we’ve established that eg denotes for example. Etc is short for et cetera, which is a Latin phrase that translates to “and the rest.” We use it to mean “and so forth.” After naming a few examples of people or things, etc indicates there are more that could be listed. When you use eg followed by one or more concrete examples, adding “and so on” is redundant. To avoid duplication, use one or the other.
- Wrong: Adverse side effects (eg, headache, nausea, and dizziness, etc) are often reported.
- Right: Adverse side effects (eg, headache, nausea, and dizziness) are often reported.
- Right: Adverse side effects (headache, nausea, dizziness, etc) are often reported.
Though these abbreviations are tiny, they can cause confusion and irritation when used incorrectly. As with all correct usage, knowing which abbreviation fits your purpose will keep your audience’s focus on the content of your message.
Marian Mostovy is a veteran writer and editor specializing in medical, pharmaceutical, and life sciences content. She has worked for leading companies such as McKesson, National Medical Care, and Philips as well as trade publications and medical communications agencies. Marian’s range covers B2B and B2C content for web pages, promotions, long-form articles, blogs, white papers, newsletters, and social media. As a writer/editor for Encompass, she acts as a gatekeeper for accurate, consistent, and user-friendly communications.