“Conference-goers at a college soon found themselves reeling under the sheer weight of appalling acronyms.  It was about POGI (Process of Ongoing Improvement) and TQM (Total Quality Management) and APL (Accredited Prior Learning).  But what really got them was the last item on the agenda:  TEA – 4 p.m.”

Press Report

Readers complain of abbreviations and acronyms as the most common form of  jargon.  They are convenient for the writer but are usually out of tune with readers’ needs. Whenever possible you should avoid using them unless they are universally understood such as UK, USA, NATO, IBM or BMW.

Advice on Using Abbreviations and Acronyms

1.    Avoid as many as possible.
2.   Never use more than two on any one page.
3.    Use them only if they are convenient for your readers.

  • All your readers know exactly what they mean.
  • Spelling them out would irritate your readers.

4.    Convert as many as possible into words.

  • Use the full words – Vice President, not VP.
  • Use a shortened word form – Unit, not RDU (Research and Development Unit).
  • Use an alternative – computer’s memory, not RAM (Random Access Memory).

5.    If you have to use an abbreviation or acronym, define it.

If it is convenient for the reader to use the unfamiliar abbreviation or acronym, spell out its meaning in brackets the first time you use it.
For example:  CBT (Computer-Based Training)

6.   If the abbreviation or acronym is familiar to the reader, there is no need to spell it out.

For example, if you are writing to staff in the computer department you would not need to spell out the shortened forms in the following sentence:

To run the program on an IBM PC, convert the file to ASCII and call it up from the menu on the UNIX network.

7.   Don’t use periods between letters.

The modern trend is to omit the periods in abbreviations and acronyms.

For example:    B.M.W. – prefer BMW
U.S.A.  – prefer USA

Avoid Alphabet Soup

Using too many abbreviations or acronyms produces an indigestible “alphabet soup.”  The more shortened forms you use, the more it irritates the reader and ruins your style.