The Long and Short of Abbreviations


To abbreviate, or not to abbreviate? That is the question. The answer? It depends. When writing a research paper, you’ll probably find yourself asking this question sooner or later. As you compile your Works Cited, you’ll most likely find several words that must be abbreviated.

I.e. and e.g?

The abbreviations i.e. and e.g. are each commonly used in research papers. It’s also common to find they have been misused and confused. Both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviated Latin terms; i.e. stands for id est, which means “that is,” or “in other words.” E.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means “for the sake of example.”

It’s easy to remember the correct use of each if you use the beginning letters to help:

 “i” in i.e. = in other words

“e” in e.g. = example given

Joe loves watching old westerns (e.g., High Noon and Stagecoach).

The words following e.g. are examples, so you know that these are just some of the old westerns Joe loves watching

I.g. means in “in other words,” so use it to clarify or add further information:

Joe loves watching The Three Stooges (i.e., Larry, Moe, and Curly).

The words following i.e. provide clarification: they tell you the names of The Three Stooges.

Our pet hamster (i.e., the one Aunt Martha gave us) loves to eat Cheerios. Clarifies which hamster.

Our pet iguana loves vegetation (e.g., grass, leaves, twigs). Gives examples of vegetation.

For these abbreviations, you could also simply write out “for example” or “in other words” in your paper. If in doubt, write it out. Also, most style guides direct you to place a comma after e.g. and i.e., but as mine just did, the spellchecker told me to remove the comma. If you are using MLA documentation style, use a comma after.

Titles of Works

As you write the body of your paper, you may find the need to abbreviate often referred to titles of works. To avoid confusion, immediately after the first use of the title, place the abbreviated title in parenthesis:

In All’s Well That Ends Well (AWW), Shakespeare. . . .

Below are acceptable abbreviations for famous works:

Inf.      Dante, Inferno
FQ       Spencer, The Faerie Queene
GT       Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

Many great writers’ works, as noted above, have accepted abbreviations; however, if you are referencing a work without a commonly known abbreviation, you may devise your own simple abbreviation:

More Guns, Less Crime (MGLC)
The Road to Serfdom (RTS)
The Shadow University: The Betrayal Of Liberty On America’s Campuses (SU)

Works Cited

A Works Cited page will most always include numerous required abbreviations. Below are a few of the most common.


MLA rules dictate that all months be abbreviated on the list of Works Cited – except for May, June and July (because they are short words). Keep in mind that when you abbreviate a word, it must end with a period: Jan., Feb., Mar., etc.

Notice that I have a list of abbreviated months. The list requires me to add a comma after each. Note that I just concluded a sentence with the abbreviation “etc.”; the period that acts as the abbreviation mark also works as a period to end the sentence, so you DO NOT add another period at the end of the sentence. Stylistically, many grammarians suggest to avoid concluding a sentence with an abbreviated word to prevent confusion.

Keep in mind that if you refer to months in the body of your text, you would write out the entire word.


According to the MLA Handbook, the trend in abbreviations is to NOT use periods or place spaces between commonly abbreviated words, or words that are capitalized:

Unites States          US
New York                NY
British Columbia   BC
California                CA     


When including personal names, however, you would include a period and a space:

J. R. R. Tolkien
T. S. Eliot
E. B. White

Publication Info

It’s not uncommon find a book with missing publication information. Supply as much of the missing info as you can locate, using square brackets to indicate it did not come from the source:

n.p.                 No place of publication given
n.p.                 No publisher given
n.d.                 No date of publication
n.pag.             No page number given
c.                     circa (for approximate date)

You’re wondering, how do you know what the two n.p. abbreviations represent? If n.p. is inserted before the colon, it means no place. If the n.p. is placed after the colon, it indicates no publisher.

Scholarly Abbreviations Below is a list of a few of the most commonly abbreviated words found on Works Cited or Reference pages, which may or may not be capitalized, depending on their use and placement in the citation:

Anonymous             anon.
Appendix                  app.
Association               asso.
Chapter                     ch. or chap.
Dissertation             diss.
Document                doc.
Foreword                  fwd.
Illustration               illus.
journal                       jour.
Library                       lib.
Limited                      ltd.
Paragraph                 par.
Section                       sec. or sect.
Society                       soc.
University Press       UP
World Wide Web      www

This is only an abbreviated (!) list of abbreviations. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers has an extensive list of other uses, and is one of the go-to source for related questions. If you are using another citations style other than MLA, always refer to that style guide.




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