How do you use etc. correctly?
Simple answer: don’t.
Etc. usage isn’t complicated. Etc. is not an effective shortcut in formal writing. (Of course it’s perfectly all right for something informal, like an email or a letter. If you do use etc., make sure you don’t stick “and” in front.)
This isn’t just a silly rule made up by a bunch of cranky English teachers with too much time on their hands. Etc. betrays sloppy thinking. (It’s also misspelled much of the time: ect. Sigh.)
Etc. is an abbreviation for the Latin et cetera, “and the rest.” (Thinking about the Latin phrase will help you spell etc. correctly every time. And it will help you remember to avoid that extra and – the et takes care of it.)
And that’s where the problem lies. In formal writing, you can’t just let a sentence trail off into vagueness that way. The rest of what?
Here’s an example I came across recently. The topic is the history of PEN (an organization of Poets, Essayists, and Novelists founded in 1921):
The acronym derives from Poets and playwrights/Editors/Novelists, but today the organization includes critics, translators, journalists, etc.
Many readers (I’m one) would like to know who else is eligible to join PEN. A songwriter? A ghostwriter? A rapper? What about someone who doesn’t write plays but directs them?
Here’s how the sentence might be rewritten:
The acronym derives from Poets and playwrights/Editors/Novelists, but today the organization includes critics, translators, journalists, and others who are paid for their writing. BETTER