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AUTHOR'S ENGLISH WRTING GUIDE
Know Your Latin Terms
Latin was, at one time, the shared language of scholars. We still see it commonly used in scientific names (like Homo sapiens or Escherichia coli), and some appear scattered through both scientific and common English writing.
Why do we use Latin abbreviations in our writing? Scientific writing prizes conciseness, or presenting an idea with minimal words. Commonly understood Latin abbreviations replace longer English terms (like “etc.” instead of “and so on / among others”).
Many style guides and journals disagree about whether Latin terms should or should not be italicized in science writing. Check your journal’s style guide or sample publications to verify their specific rules, but consistency is critical. If you opt to italicize “in vivo,” italicize every instance throughout the paper. Microsoft Word’s “Find” (ctrl+F) and “Find and Replace” (ctrl+H) tools can be particularly useful for ensuring consistency.
There is one thing that most journals agree on: if an abbreviation is used commonly in everyday English, it does not need to be italicized, including the words “via,” “versus,” and “etc.”
Common mistakes in Latin abbreviations
One of the most frequent Latin abbreviations we see in science writing is “et al.,” which is the abbreviation of et alii, meaning “and other people.” In manuscripts, it is used after the first author’s name to denote a longer list of authors that can be found in the References section. Because it is an abbreviation, “et al.” should always be punctuated with a period.
Many scientists, both native and non-native English speakers, confuse the terms “i.e.” and “e.g.” Both are two-letter Latin abbreviations used in parentheses, often before a list of terms. However, there is a very important difference between the two.
“i.e.” translates as “that is.” It precedes a definition or complete list of items. It is not a list of possible examples, but communicates to your readers exactly the items of reference.
In this example, mice and rats were the only two rodents present. Note that if you remove “i.e.” the meaning of the sentence remains the same. One trick for remembering “i.e.” is to think of it as short for “in essence,” another English phrase meaning “that is” that happens to start with an “i” and an “e.”
“e.g.” means “for example.” You can use “e.g.” in a sentence where “etc.” could be used, with an incomplete list that helps clarify your meaning.
Note that the sentence reads the same if written this way:
This same does not hold true of the sentence presented earlier:
because we know from the sentence that there were only two types of rodents, while “etc.” implies there are more. Thus,
is also incorrect.
Below are a few key concepts to remember about using Latin terms and abbreviations in your English science writing: