Writing tip: Abbreviations and acronyms

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Theresa Bell
Writing tip: Abbreviations and acronyms

Abbreviations and acronyms are commonly used in business writing because authors and their readers usually share an understanding of a professional context and the abbreviations used within it. The decision of when to use abbreviations and acronyms in academic writing can more complicated because readers of the work may not be as familiar as the author with the topic and its associated abbreviations. When readers are unfamiliar with acronyms, they will need to return repeatedly to the initial explanation of the abbreviation, which can be frustrating. Also, abbreviations can make comprehending text significantly more difficult for dyslexic readers (Enigk, 2012, para. 6). Finally, when text relies heavily on acronyms, the flow of the text can be affected as all caps text is more difficult to read (Strizver, n.d., para. 1). For example, the next two sentences could be difficult to understand without a familiarity of the acronyms commonly used at Royal Roads University: RRU’s SoB, which is in the FoM, offers the following programs: BBA, BCOM, MBA, and MGM. The capstone project for MGM students is the GMP, whereas MBA students complete OMPs.

The American Psychological Association (2010) offered the following advice regarding using abbreviations:

Use an abbreviation only (a) if it is conventional and if the reader is more familiar with the abbreviation than with the complete form or (b) if considerable space can be saved and cumbersome repetition avoided. In short, use only those abbreviations that will help you communicate with your reader. (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 107)

Similarly, regarding whether to use abbreviations for group authors within citations:

The names of groups that serve as authors. . . are usually spelled out each time they appear in a text citation. The names of some group authors are spelled out in the first citation and abbreviated thereafter. In deciding whether to abbreviate the name of a group author, use the general rules that you need to give enough information in the text citation for the reader to locate the entry in the reference list without difficulty. If the name is long and cumbersome and if the abbreviation is familiar or readily understandable, you may abbreviate the name in the second and subsequent citations. If the name is short or if the abbreviation would not be readily understandable, write out the name each time it occurs. (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 176)

Assessing what abbreviations are conventional or familiar can be tricky as some abbreviations have different meanings; for example, AMA could refer to the American Medical Association, the Alberta Medical Association, or the Alberta Motor Association. Similarly, CIA could refer to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Culinary Institute of America, or the Cleveland Institute of Art. Spelling out the name every time may feel like more work for the author, but it’s an effort that will help the reader more easily understand the information.

For more information on abbreviations, please see Can I use abbreviations, such as an acronym, in my text? and An Abbreviations FAQ from the APA Style Blog. If you have any questions about abbreviations or any other writing matter, please contact the Writing Centre as we'd be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Writing Centre Coordinator

References

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Enigk, E. (2012, November 8). Writing for dyslexic readers. Retrieved from http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/writing-for-dyslexic-readers

Strizver, I. (n.d.). All caps: To set or not to set? Retrieved from http://www.fonts.com/content/learning/fyti/situational-typography/all-caps