Correct Wording for Examples

Subject: Correct Wording for Examples
From: Alisa Dean <Alisa -dot- Dean -at- MCI -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 1996 09:27:00 -0700

> Matt Flynn wrote:
> Just to throw another curve in this conversation, how much
> does it really MATTER that the reader knows the difference
> between "i.e." and "e.g."? Both perform similar functions in
> attempting to illuminate further somerthing you have already
> explained or defined. "I.e." gives an alternative word or
> phrase; "e.g." gives an example. The harm done by confusing
> these two things is minimal at best.

> Personally, I like to use "i.e." because I think "that is" looks
> and sounds ugly. However, I prefer "for example" to "e.g."
> because I don't see any aesthetic advantage to the abreviation.
> Of course, this is very subjective...

There is a problem with this. I.e. not only indicates another phrasing
of what was previously said, but it is also used to define a complete
set of values. For example: "This program uses the primary colors (i.e.,
red, blue, and yellow)." I.e. indicates that all possible values are
shown.

E.g. is used to list a subset of all the values and implies that there
are additional values not listed. For example: "This program supports
246 colors (e.g., red, blue, yellow, and green)." This is why "e.g."
should not be mixed with "etc.", since both imply an incomplete list
and, used together, are redundant.

I have encountered several instances where the two separate meanings
potentially would have caused error or danger in the procedures I was
documenting. Also, most people I have asked do confuse the two meanings.
Therefore, I always use "that is" or "for example" (or their equivalents)
to prevent confusion.

The terms "e.g." and "i.e." are *not* interchangeable.

Alisa Dean
Sr. Technical Writer
alisa -dot- dean -at- mci -dot- com


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