Using “Etcetera” in Academic Writing

April 02, 2018
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Using “Etcetera” in Academic Writing

You probably know it better as “etc.” you have read things that have used it; you have probably said it yourself. You may or may not have used it in your own assignment writing, but chances are you may not be using it correctly. One of the reasons is that how to use etc. is not taught in English grammar and composition classes. But if you plan on using etcetera in academic writing, you will need to understand the rules. And that what this article is all about. So here goes.

The term “et cetera” actually comes from Latin, and it means “so forth” or “and other similar things.” And using etcetera in academic writing is perfectly fine, as long as you do it right.

How to Use Etc. in Lists of Things

In this case, you will want to know how to use "etc." at the end of a sentence and, as well, how do you use "etc." in a sentence, when there is more that follows it. The important point in using etc. at the end of a list is that all things in the list must be related. Here are some examples of both situations:

  1. They can live in any body of freshwater – creeks, ponds, lakes, etc.
  2. That literature class covers fiction, non-fiction, short stories, novels, poetry, etc.
  3. We were asked to describe the emotion (anger, fear, joy, etc.) we felt when we viewed the photography.
  4. Bring any small items that may be of value - coins, stamps, jewelry, etc. to the appraiser on Thursday morning.

Note that all of the items in the lists are related. Another important point on how to use "etc." in a sentence is punctuation. Because it is an abbreviation, you must place a period at the end of it, no matter where it may appear. You don’t need a period if you spell it out, but be sure your spelling is correct. Excetera, etcetra, and exedra are common mis-spellings, so get it right.
In the 4th example, note also that there was a dash before the list, rather than a term like “such as.” If you use “such as,” you do not need to use “etc.” because the meaning is already clear.

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Don’t Use Etc. More Than Once in a Sentence

While using several “etc.’s” in speaking or in informal writing is often used for emphasis, using "etc." in academic writing is far different. You can say to a friend, “I have to get to the grocery store, a doctor’s appointment and my haircut appointment, write my essay before the deadline runs out, etc., etc., etc., before I can get back to home and start cleaning,” is common informal language. But in formal writing, only one “etc.” is “allowed.”

Etc., How to Use When Referring to People

This rule is simple. Never, never, never use "etc." when referring to people. “We studied the works of Shakespeare, Milton, etc. in our English lit class,” is not acceptable. Either name them all or come up with some other term, like, “We studied all of the most famous authors in our English literature course.”

Never Use “And” before “Etc.”

The word “and” already implies what “etc.” means, and using it is just redundant. So, you can say, “The courses covered all of the major forms of government, including democracy, fascism, communism, monarchy, etc.,” or you can say, “The course covered all of the major forms of government, including democracy, fascism, communism, monarchy, and others.”

Etc. How to Use Correct Punctuation

This rule is quite simple. If you use “etc.” in the middle of a sentence, and it is not enclosed in parentheses, then you must use a comma after the abbreviation. If it is in parentheses in the middle of a sentence or at the end of a sentence, no comma is needed. Examples:

  1. Joe and I stuffed ourselves on pizza, beer, pork rinds, candy bars, etc., and we really felt it the next day.
  2. After finals were over, Joe and I stuffed ourselves on pizza, beer, pork rinds, candy bars, etc.
  3. After finals, Joe and I stuffed ourselves with every bit of junk we could find (pizza, beer, pork rinds, candy bars, etc.).

Using Additional Punctuation after “Etc”

Remember, “etc.” is an abbreviation, and abbreviations call for periods after them. This doesn’t mean that you don’t use any other punctuation after that period. Use all of the regular punctuation that you would if that “etc.” was just another word – question marks, exclamation points, semi-solons or colons. The only exception is the period at the end of a sentence. Examples:

  1. Are you going to bring the paper supplies, like plates, cups, napkins, etc.?
  2. I hate proofreading my essays, papers, etc.!
  3. We are not going to get anxious about these finals; we are not going to lose sleep, eat junk, etc.; and we are not going to go in with a defeatist attitude.

In General

You will not find the use of “etc.” rampant in academic writing. That is because scholarly research and writing is usually very specific and detailed and does not rely on the reader to “add” things on his own. Oh, yes, you can use it, certainly, in essays you may write for an English course. But use it sparingly in research works.