Basia’s question: “I was proofing a paper for a grad student, and we wondered what the difference is between the terms ‘for instance’ and ‘for example’ in a sentence.”
BizWritingTip response: According to the Oxford Dictionary, for instance is defined “as an example.” For example means “by way of illustration.”
In theory, for instance is used for a specific illustration. For example is used to describe a real or theoretical case when there are also other possible types.
What should we do in case of an emergency, for instance, a fire? (This is a specific situation.)
You will be tested on computer programs, for example, Word and PowerPoint. (There are other types of programs not mentioned.)
In practice, the words are used interchangeably.
Note: The abbreviation, e.g., may be used for both for example and for instance.