Common Abbreviations and What They Mean


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

Remember bibliographies? Every research paper requires a bibliography, whether you’re writing a junior high theme or a master’s thesis, to show what material the author read for background knowledge or where the quotations used in said document first appeared.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) states that “outside the area of science and technology, abbreviations are most appropriate in tabular matter, notes, bibliographies, and parenthetical references.”

But some of the abbreviations used in standard bibliographies for scholarly writing also can be used in technical writing. A long time ago, I was the editor of a magazine called Paint and Coatings Industry, which often dealt with chemical formulas for several products, including pearlescent pigments, water-repellant coatings, and surfactants. Since many of the articles were exceedingly technical, a lot had references to certain chemistries throughout, as well as extensive bibliographies.

You never know where your writing will take you, so here’s a quick primer on the most common abbreviations. Remember, the goal of any article, no matter how technical, is clarity. Try to keep the number of abbreviations down. CMS advises if there are too many abbreviations, make a list, especially of the unfamiliar ones, and include it at the back or in a sidebar. When you’re editing, always remember not to assume readers will automatically know what the abbreviation stands for because different industries have different abbreviations. Also, sometimes the same abbreviation means something different depending on the industry.

Here’s a list of the most common abbreviations. Do you remember what they all mean?

e.g.=  For the Latin exempli gratia or “for example,” and should not be confused with i.e., which at the end of this list. It must be followed by a period, like the rest on the list, because they all end with lowercase letters. This is both CMS and Associate Press style.

et al. = et alii (or et alia) meaning “and others.”

ex. = example

ibid.= ibidem, which means “in the same place.”

i.e.= id est or that is (to say).

Many people use e.g. and i.e. interchangeably, but they really don’t mean the same thing. One is clearly an example, while the other continues or expands on a thought.

If you are interested in a more detailed explanation of abbreviations, see the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition, section 10.1, page 572, or online here.

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These books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2017 edition

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of the Bibliophiles series, contemporary fiction with a sprinkling of the classics, and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit


I see those two being used interchangeably, too. I think it's great you posted this explanation.
angel011 said…
I didn't know about ex. Thank you!
You're welcome, angel011. Glad I could help.

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