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Use StyleWriter to edit and correct ABBREVIATIONS

StyleWriter will help you keep abbreviations to a minimum.

Only use abbreviations for the convenience of the reader.

If in doubt, spell them out or use the shortened word in place of the phrase.

Abbreviations – typically two-letter, three-letter and four-letter combinations – are a shorthand convenience for the writer but cause many problems for readers. Readers often complain of jargon – the language of the specialist.  Abbreviations – and there are millions in the English language – are the most common form of jargon. If overused, abbreviations can produce an alphabet soup, classic jargon that’s impossible for most people to understand.

Alphabet soup INR RMS performance is impacted by RWA and SADM microvibrations, MISA scan residuals, ARW from the IRU, IRES and LIASS noise-induced AOCS jitter, as well as parallax effects due to EW and NS orbital position errors.

Why abbreviations annoy readers

Writers overuse abbreviations out of habit, not realizing the problems they cause readers.  Often, they’ll shorten a phrase to a new abbreviation, define it and not use it again.  Other times, writers will define it on the first use and then use it later in the document.  But readers often pick up documents (such as instruction manuals) and go to different sections first.  However, the greatest problem is that every abbreviation is always open to misunderstanding.

Abbreviation Author Meant Reader Understood
BAG Banking Action Group Suitcase
MS Multiple sclerosis Manuscript
PMT Pole-Mounted Transformer Premenstrual Tension
STD Subscriber Trunk Dialing Sexually Transmitted Disease

Whenever possible you should avoid using abbreviations and acronyms. Of course, if you are using a common abbreviation such as PC to mean personal computer and the context makes this clear, there's no real problem. But if you are using it for another term, such as:

Postal Clerk or Production Control, then such a common abbreviation can still be a problem. The abbreviation PC means different things to different groups. Law: probable cause, physical containment, personally corrupt, police constable Medical: posteriors cervical, peripheral clarity, perforated cranium, prostate cancer Military: power converter, production control, pass certified, Peace Corps.

How to keep abbreviations to a minimum:

1.    Avoid as many as possible.

2.    Never use more than three different ones 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, define it. If it is convenient for the reader to use an abbreviation in a long document, spell out its meaning in brackets the first time you use it. For example:  CBT (computer-based training)

6.    If the abbreviation is familiar to the reader, there is no need to spell it out. For example, if you are writing to a federal government official, you would not need to spell out any of the abbreviations in the following sentence: The CIA has examined FAA’s security procedures at US airports.

7.    Don't use periods or stops between letters. The modern trend is to omit the periods or stops in abbreviations and acronyms.

For example:     U.S.A. – prefer USA

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