An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase. An acronym is one type of abbreviation that uses the initial letters of a group of words. Abbreviations and acronyms have been used ever since man started writing, and every language uses them. They can represent either an understanding of the word or laziness. Here are some pointers for those who want to use abbreviations in their writing.
- First, ask yourself if your readers will really understand your message. If not, you should spell out your abbreviation the first time you use it in your document, and about every five times you use the abbreviation after that if it is a report or a book.
- It is shorter and easier to use abbreviations when you are addressing a very specific audience (e.g., abbreviations that are pervasive in the literature of a specialized field like psychotherapy).
- Abbreviations are easy to use when writing to your peeps and BFFs.
- Abbreviations can be acceptable if they are more popular than the full name (e.g., FBI, CIA, FAQ, Scuba, NATO, DNA, IQ). However, some abbreviations can stand for more than the more popular usage. For example, NATO usually stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization. However, it has also been used to represent North African Theater of Operations and National Association of Theatre Owners, Inc., among others. Moreover, ASAP usually means as soon as possible. However, it has been used to represent Army Substance Abuse Program and Aerospace Safety Advisory Pane, among others. So, it pays to define your abbreviation at first mention, if it does not have the popular meaning.
- Abbreviations can be acceptable when you have only a small amount of space to work with in a publication.
Avoid using abbreviations in fiction writing. You may think it is okay to be casual because it is fiction, but your readers may get confused and give up trying to get through your story.
It comes down to knowing your audience—the wider your audience, the less pervasive your use of abbreviations should be.
For help in putting your best word forward, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.